If you subscribe to the newsletter feed of this website, you probably got something like 14 messages yesterday from me. My apologies … I uploaded a bunch of old cartoons to the site and had no idea WordPress would send them all out individually until my phone blew up and I saw that I had 14 emails … from myself.
I’m very sorry if you were spammed, and I’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The big news is the announcement that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is buying the region’s alternative weekly, Pittsburgh City Paper, from the owners of the Butler Eagle in Butler County. (The two companies have already been friendly. Butler Eagle has been printing the Post-Gazette during the Post-Gazette’s ongoing strike, and tried to stop City Paper from reporting it, which led City Paper’s then-editor, Lisa Cunningham, to resign in protest in October 2022.)
The Butler Eagle is a conservative paper, both in its editorial outlook and business operations. So the idea of them owning City Paper — which had long been a champion of progressive causes, including police oversight, government accountability, social services and racial and LGBTQ equality — always seemed odd, even back when it was announced in 2016.
And as far as I know, City Paper is losing money, especially since they continue to solicit donations from readers. When I interned there in the 1990s, it was fat with ads for personal services (escorts, massage parlors and tattoo artists), bars and restaurants, and concerts. What Craigslist and eBay didn’t take away, the COVID-19 pandemic finished off, and City Paper has relatively few paid ads these days.
So why would the Post-Gazette want a money-losing paper that doesn’t fit its editorial outlook? I have three guesses.
It’s a psychological blow at the Post-Gazette’s striking employees. The P-G unions have claimed, publicly, that the parent company could afford to give its employees a raise and pay more for benefits—but they don’t want to. If the P-G’s owners are buying another newspaper, even one that’s losing money, they’re kind of saying “you’re correct, we could pay you more, but we’re not going to.”
It silences one of the Post-Gazette’s critics. City Paper has, for years, been a thorn in the side of Pittsburgh’s mainstream media. Outside of bloggers and social media, it’s been one of the few outlets that ever reports critically on the Post-Gazette, the Tribune-Review, WPXI, KDKA, WTAE, WESA and WYEP. City Paper also has been an outlet for striking P-G employees to tell their side of the story. You can expect that to come to a screeching halt.
It’s a back door to completely eliminating the Post-Gazette’s newsroom unions. This may be a stretch, but follow me here … and direct your attention up to Cleveland.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer was, like the Post-Gazette, a monopoly newspaper in a large metropolitan area, which means it was a money-printing machine until the mid-2000s.
As Columbia Journalism Review explained back in 2020, the Plain Dealer also had a unionized newsroom, just like the Post-Gazette. In fact, the Plain Dealer was the very first newspaper in the United States whose reporters joined the American Newspaper Guild.
The Plain Dealer’s parent company, Advance Publications (which you may know from publications such as Vogue, The New Yorker and Wired), also owned the dominant news website in Cleveland, cleveland.com, which served as the Plain Dealer’s home page.
But cleveland.com was legally a separate company. It also was non-union.
So what did Advance Publications do? They started laying off union employees at the Plain Dealer, and they hired non-union writers at cleveland.com. Then, they reprinted cleveland.com stories in the newspaper, until most of the Plain Dealer’s content was coming from cleveland.com.
The last unionized journalists at the Plain Dealer were then offered buyouts or were laid-off and Local 1 of the Newspaper Guild no longer exists:
The Post-Gazette’s parent company is based in Toledo, just a quick run up the Ohio Turnpike from Cleveland. They saw what happened in Cleveland. They also saw that the Plain Dealer’s owners got away with it.
There are already a bunch of Post-Gazette reporters who are crossing the picket line. As higher-paid veteran reporters at the Post-Gazette retire or leave, why wouldn’t the Post-Gazette’s parent company just hire lower-priced reporters at City Paper, and run their content on the P-G website and in the remaining printed P-G editions?
That doesn’t seem far-fetched to me.