The ongoing, and growing, strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the potential to show all of us what it would mean to lose the newspaper, perhaps when we still have a chance to change the narrative of local news.
When the McKeesport Daily News closed in 2015, some local leaders rejoiced at first: The newspaper’s journalists wouldn’t be asking difficult questions or telling negative stories any longer. They quickly realized that for every article about crime or taxpayer spending, the newspaper told many more about all the little moments that make up the daily life of any community.
Newspapers — and now local digital news sites — tell our stories from birth to death and everything in between.
Unfortunately, as consumers, we don’t often notice these contributions until it’s too late, when the news outlets already are gone.
Newsroom workers at the Post-Gazette, represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, voted on Monday, Oct. 17 to authorize an unfair labor practice strike, which took effect at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 18. That means many of the journalists at the newspaper will stop working, while others will choose to cross the picket line to stay on the job.
Block Communications Inc., which owns the newspaper, has said previously that it has offered fair compensation packages to workers, which they rejected.
You might not think the PG’s labor woes have anything to do with you, but they will.
Pittsburgh’s previous newspaper strike in 1992 brought the city to a standstill with changes that were obvious, immediate and halting. A lot has changed.
For one, we have many more options. The Tribune-Review’s Pittsburgh presence grew out of the strike 30 years ago, and its reporter Julia Felton was the first person to reach out to me for comment when the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh walked out today.
We have a lot of other digital alternatives too: PublicSource, The Incline, City Cast … did I mention NEXTPittsburgh? We actually started a group, the Pittsburgh Media Partnership, to bring local news outlets together. Plus, you have broadcast TV channels, public radio (WESA) and local news radio such as KDKA.
That might seem like a lot, and a colleague from out of town recently said we should be grateful to have such a robust local media ecosystem.
It’s still not enough. The American Journalism Project conducted a study of Pittsburgh media a year ago and determined that the city lacks accountability reporting and overlooks too many communities.
We get the stories about meetings and press conferences, but we do not have enough enterprise reporting in which reporters look around and ask hard questions of those in power. Journalists, after all, are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
We can read about what happens in prosperous areas where businesses and advertisers remain, but we miss out on what happens in places that have fallen on hard times or rural ones where people live spread out.
The lack of diversity in newsrooms and in the stories that get told remains a major problem. The American Press Institute launched a diversity initiative in the city this summer to address the problem.
Pittsburgh needs to be adding more reporters, not taking them away.
This strike has the potential to hurt a lot of people: the employees, the owners and all of us.
With fewer journalists asking questions and telling stories, we will learn less about our city and region — even if we don’t realize it at first.