UPDATE: On Thursday, Oct. 13, striking workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked subscribers and advertisers to cancel their subscriptions and boycott the newspaper. PG journalists continue to work. This story was originally published on Oct. 6.
Pittsburghers have gotten used to waking most mornings without a printed newspaper, but it still felt like a shock to get a 4 a.m. email from the Post-Gazette saying it would not be delivered on Thursday.
By now, even if you do not subscribe to the paper, you surely know that one of the Post-Gazette’s unions, the Communications Workers of America representing the mailers and typographers (in Advertising Sales and Accounts Receivable), has gone on strike. Two other unions are joining with them, the Teamsters and the Pressmen.
The employees have walked out over a dispute over insurance premiums, with the workers saying the owners refused to pay the expense and the owners saying they offered a raise to offset the higher premiums.
Hence, no printed newspapers today.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that makes today like a lot of other days: The PG prints only on Thursdays and Sundays.
At the same time, it also makes today unique and a potential precursor for change.
The last time Pittsburgh had a newspaper strike in 1992, the city went into it with two newspapers — the PG and the Press. After seven months, it came out with the PG and a startup called the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review when publisher Richard Scaife started an edition of his Greensburg newspaper in the city.
When that strike started, Pittsburghers turned to fax machines, televised obituaries and taped recordings to get the news. On the strike’s 30th anniversary in May, Tom Waseleski — a PG staff member from 1983 to 2016 — wrote a fascinating story about this time for the Post-Gazette.
This time, Pittsburghers are better prepared to find local news, of course. We have multiple outlets for local information such as NEXTPittsburgh, the Trib, 90.5 WESA, City Cast Pittsburgh, The Incline, the New Pittsburgh Courier, etc. As well as local television and radio.
We also have the PG’s digital edition.
In a statement, Toledo-based Block Communications, which owns the PG and is controlled by the Block family, said it “will continue to publish seven days a week.”
For now, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has said it will start withholding bylines — but not that its members will stop producing content. If the reporters continue to report and write stories for the PG, that might play right into the Block family’s plans.
John Robinson Block, the PG’s publisher and editor-in-chief, has been talking for years about a digital-first strategy and eventually a digital-only one. That time might finally be here.
The role of printed newspapers has changed dramatically in recent decades, but people still will feel a loss if this truly is the end.
In my new book, “Death of the Daily News,” I describe what happened in McKeesport when the town lost its printed newspaper after 131 years. People missed the newspaper more than they expected. After all, generations of Mon Valley residents had been reading the same publication that their parents and grandparents read. Newspapers create bonds among residents by informing people of local events from birth to death and everything in between.
But over the past seven years in McKeesport, a lot has happened. The city already had the Tube City Almanac, and that has taken on more importance. The Mon Valley Independent, which four local investors started in Monessen when the newspaper there closed, has opened a bureau in McKeesport. And residents are taking greater responsibility for their news through programs such as the McKeesport Community Newsroom, run by the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.
Changes like this are happening all across the U.S. as local newspapers shrink and close.
Have people figured it all out yet? No, not entirely, but we are coming up with solutions and that makes this time exciting.
The same is already happening here in Pittsburgh. We’ve been watching the slow decline of printed newspapers for more than a decade and adapting to the changes. People already expect to get the news from the internet, and most likely from their smartphones.
Many won’t even realize Pittsburgh didn’t have a printed newspaper today.
The nostalgia for printed newspapers is real, but so is the reality of our digital shift.