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'National Embarrassment': Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Under Fire After 2 Black Journalists Say They Were Barred From Protest Coverage

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has laid down a list of demands after a black Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist says she was barred from protest coverage because of a viral "thought provoking" tweet the newspaper told her was biased.

Alexis Johnson's tweet from last weekend reads: "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 guild held a press conference Monday morning to address the situation, which is gaining national attention and coverage.

Guild president Michael Fuoco called it a "national embarrassment" and said the public has sent over 3,000 letters to the newspaper's management in the last 24 hours. Public leaders like Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have also shown solidarity with Johnson.

The morning after Johnson's tweet, she says she pitched four stories related to the protest to her editor and was told to hold off. She says she wasn't talked to until the end of her shift.

"I was told it violated our social media policy. They kept calling it an educational conversation, but there was no warning, no 'hey can you take the tweet down?' By Monday morning, they had decided I would no longer be able to cover it," Johnson said.

"As a black woman, as a Pittsburgh native, as the daughter of a retired state trooper and a retired probation officer, it was a shame I wasn't able to bring my background to cover this story and it's a shame those stories won't be told," she said at a press conference Monday morning.

Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist Michael Santiago says he was also pulled from protest coverage, but says management has yet to give him a reason.

"I'm disappointed that I'm not out there covering these protests. When I put my camera down and take my press badges off, I'm a black man in America," Santiago says.

On the same day as Johnson's tweet, Post-Gazette Reporter Joshua Axelrod, who is a white man, tells KDKA he "made a legitimate journalistic mistake on social media."

"He was also spoken to on Monday about his social conduct and he was not pulled off coverage, I was," Johnson said.

Axelrod tells KDKA he is speaking out to help get justice for his colleagues.

"I was initially treated in a much more lenient manner by newsroom management than Alexis Johnson or Michael Santiago were and was only taken off protest coverage retroactively," Axelrod said.

The guild is calling on Post-Gazette management to issue an apology, remove the ban on Johnson and Santiago, stop retaliating against their supporters and to get back to ethical journalism.

"The Post-Gazette is on the wrong side of history. We're on the right side of history," Fuoco says.

"None of us should be here today," Johnson said to press members Monday. "We should be covering one of the pivotal moments in history."

When asked if she thought there was anything wrong with her tweet, Johnson replied no and said she stands by her words.

"Maybe because it was about this topic -- black issues -- that they felt because I'm a black journalist and a black woman my words held more weight and more bias but who am I to not speak on this issue," Johnson said.

"That's why you hire diversity to get all points of view, different lived experiences. For them to thumb their nose in that to me is only racial discrimination. Prove me wrong and put them back on the coverage," said Fuoco.

KDKA does have a news gathering partnership with the Post-Gazette. KDKA reached out to the paper's Managing Editor Karen Kane and Block Newspapers Executive Editor and Vice President Keith Burris for comment, but have yet to receive a response.

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