Stan Wischnowski has been here before.
He came to the region in the early 1990s when a newspaper strike shut down the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Gannett brought in dozens of journalists to turn the twice-weekly North Hills News Record into a daily newspaper. Wischnowski briefly served as news editor and assistant managing editor there.
When the strike ended, subscribers went back to reading the Post-Gazette, Gannett sold the North Hills News Record to Dick Scaife, and Wischnowski moved onto a remarkable journalism career. He worked at The Detroit News, and then at The Philadelphia Inquirer, ultimately serving as executive editor of one of the nation’s largest newsrooms for the past four-and-a-half years.
Now, with Post-Gazette employees on the verge of another newspaper strike, and amid concerns about the newspaper’s treatment of Black journalists and topics, Wischnowski has returned to Pittsburgh as the newspaper’s new executive editor.
Tracey DeAngelo, the Post-Gazette’s president and general manager, told me she looks forward to Wischnowski’s newsroom leadership and to him becoming part of the Pittsburgh community. Two of his three sons graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.
“Stan Wischnowski is a proven news leader with an outstanding reputation among his peers across the country, and we’re glad he chose to lead the Post-Gazette at this important time,” she said. “He is well-respected by the newsrooms that he has led. A person of integrity and thoughtful leadership, Stan is focused on the quality and innovation of journalism, an important credential for the times in which we live.”
People who worked with Wischnowski in Philadelphia said similar things about him, but his arrival in Pittsburgh follows a controversy that continues to play out at the Inquirer. He resigned there in June after a 20-year career, with former colleagues telling me that he took the fall for another editor’s lapse in judgment and for systemic problems at the newspaper.
The headline of an architecture column about buildings damaged by rioters played off the Black Lives Matter slogan by saying that “Buildings Matter, Too.” That led to a revolt by staffers who complained about institutional racism and other problems.
An open letter from Journalists of Color at the Philadelphia Inquirer raised concerns similar to ones that have come up in Pittsburgh about a lack of diversity in newsrooms and in coverage.
“We’re tired of hasty apologies and silent corrections when someone screws up,” they wrote. “We’re tired of workshops and worksheets and diversity panels. We’re tired of working for months and years to gain the trust of our communities — communities that have long had good reason to not trust our profession — only to see that trust eroded in an instant by careless, unempathetic decisions.”
Wischnowski did not write the headline, but as the person in charge of the newsroom, he submitted his resignation.
He had until that time led the news organization through several major, successful transitions that included consolidating the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com into one newsroom. He also oversaw the creation of Spotlight PA, a statewide investigative collaboration that originally included the Post-Gazette until it withdrew earlier this summer.
In a nuanced comment to The New York Times, David Boardman, board chairman of the Lenfest Institute, which owns the Inquirer, and dean of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, said Wischnowski had done a “remarkable” job but that he had inherited bigger problems than he could correct.
“He leaves behind some decades-old, deep-seated and vitally important issues around diversity, equity and inclusion, issues that were not of his creation but that will likely benefit from a fresh approach,” Boardman said. He declined to talk with me for this column.
Jim Friedlich, Lenfest’s executive director and CEO, talked about the positive work Wischnowski had done at the newspaper.
“Stan Wischnowski has a long history of journalistic accomplishment and a deep dedication to local public service news coverage,” Friedlich told me. “He will be a great addition to the Pittsburgh news community.”
Immediately, Wischnowski faces the challenge of navigating the Post-Gazette’s ongoing labor strife. Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh have authorized a strike, and the union tweeted out in frustration Tuesday about the latest negotiations with the Post-Gazette’s lawyer.
“We offered concessions any company looking for a negotiated settlement would jump at,” Guild president Mike Fuoco tweeted. “What we got was disdain and disrespect. They want war, they’ll get it.”
At the same time, Wischnowski also must work to overcome steps by his predecessor, Keith Burris, that led to accusations of racial ignorance and discrimination at the Post-Gazette. Burris penned the Reason as Racism editorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2018 that said, “Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism.” Then, this summer, Burris prevented Black journalist Alexis Johnson from covering the Black Lives Matter protests after she tweeted a joke about mayhem from a mostly white Kenny Chesney concert.