Pittsburgh Post-Gazette leadership is being accused of removing a black journalist from protest coverage after she posted a tweet about looting last Sunday, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh said in a statement. The paper has also banned others in the newsroom who spoke out against the paper's decision, they said.
The move stifled one of the few black reporters at the paper," the statement reads.
Alexis Johnson, a journalist at the Post-Gazette, posted a tweet with pictures on May 31 saying, "Horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS who don’t care about this city!!!!! .... oh wait sorry. No, these are pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. Whoops." The pictures accompanying the tweet were of a parking lot at night, covered in trash and debris. The tweet went viral, accruing more than 178,000 likes.
The next morning, Johnson pitched four stories related to the protests to her editor and she was told to hold off, she told CNN. Later, she got a call from editors saying that her tweet violated social media policy and that she was being pulled off protest coverage.
CNN has reached out to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette leadership for comment but has not heard back.
Johnson said that while there are social media guidelines that were sent out several years ago, there was no policy that their union agreed to, and she had no warning by managers before her removal from coverage. Union officials from the Guild met with three top managers on the following Wednesday to get Johnson reinstated on protest coverage, but the editors declined.
Johnson said a white male reporter who also tweeted about the protests was spoken to by editors, but was only given a warning. The reporter was removed from protest coverage after Guild representatives brought up the issue during their meeting, she said. Johnson declined to identify the reporter.
"They need to take a hard look at why they made that decision," Johnson told CNN. "They may very well thought I violated the guidelines, but I guess they need to think about why they felt so strong about that, and not a white male reporter. I guess they need to try to figure out why they are standing so strong on this."
A photographer for the Post-Gazette, which Guild president Michael Fuoco confirmed to be Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist Michael Santiago, was also removed from protest coverage after tweeting support for Johnson, the Guild said. When asked for comment, Santiago referred CNN to Fuoco, who directed CNN to the Guild statement. He also said that as of today, all Post-Gazette photographers are banned from protest coverage.
In addition, two reporter's stories about the protests were taken down last week, according to the Guild statement, and were later reposted with no bylines and "severely shortened."
One of the reporters, Lauren Lee, told CNN that this was the "right fight," and is "standing with Alexis, Michael and the few other reporters of color at the Post-Gazette and will continue to do so."
Johnson said she hasn't heard from management since last Monday. She is requesting an apology to her and the Post-Gazette readers for her protest coverage ban, and she and the Guild are also requesting for her to be allowed to cover the protests again.