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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to stop publishing in print two days a week

Natasha Lindstrom
| Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 6:18 p.m.
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette plans to stop publishing print newspapers two days a week in late August, as part of a plan to transition the nearly 232-year-old daily newspaper from a print to a digital news operation, employees learned Wednesday.

"It's the year 2018, and with the way people review and expect to review information and news, we think we're doing the right thing," said Keith Wilkowski, vice president of legal and government affairs for Block Communications Inc., the Toledo, Ohio-based company that owns the Post-Gazette. He emphasized by phone late Wednesday that the PG's staff will continue to publish news every day and night via its website and other digital delivery platforms.

"We will be publishing a (digital) newspaper seven days a week," Wilkowski said, "and, frankly, we reach more people via online than through the print publication."

Mike Fuoco, president of the Post-Gazette's editorial employee union, said the internal announcement that print operations would change from seven to five days a week rattled an already frustrated staff in the midst of contract negotiations.

"We're very sorry the company has made this decision. We're very sorry for the people who cherish having print newspapers seven days a week, and there's a lot of people like that," Fuoco said.

"I know that it's a difficult time for newspapers, but I think that the Blocks need to also recognize that there's a public trust and a public responsibility that they have by owning a newspaper that's been in existence for 231 years," Fuoco said. "I would hate to think that they're abandoning that legacy."

The union shared via Twitter and the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh's website the letter received Wednesday from Linda A. Guest, senior human resources manager for the PG.

"Management at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been exploring for some time how we can continue to provide the best quality journalism to our readers and subscribers in the future," Guest wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. "We have decided that becoming a digital news organization is our future."

The letter informed union employees — including reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, columnists and others — that the company plans to eliminate two days of print newspapers starting Aug. 25. It did not specify which days — a decision that Wilkowski said is under review.

In the same letter, Guest boasted that the Post-Gazette's website traffic "continues to grow and develop" and described its social media presence as "stronger than ever." She did not provide figures.

Guest further touted the use of PG NewsSlide, an interactive app for tablets and phones that debuted in the fall.

"It's obviously a cost-cutting move, but my understanding is that 80 percent of our revenue still comes from print, so I'm not sure what we gain," Fuoco said. "I don't know if this is penny-wise and pound-foolish. They don't consult with me on these kinds of decisions."

Guest acknowledged that the increased focus on digital means that "the nature of our operations will change substantially." She invited Fuoco to meet to discuss the effects on the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh bargaining unit, which represents about 150 employees.

The company has more than 400 unionized employees when including other groups, such as press operators, mailers and delivery drivers.

"As far as the impact on the newsroom, we don't know what that will be," Fuoco said. "Our assumption and our hope is that there would be no impact. We still need reporters and photographers and designers and copy editors to put out a quality newspaper, regardless of the platform."

Fuoco said it's important to note that the announced shift away from print comes amid contract negotiations that have dragged on for about 16 months, with some of the biggest sticking points involving wages, health care and control over employee schedules and hours.

In late January, the PG's reporters went on a four-day byline strike .

Fuoco said his union members haven't received a raise in 12 years and that he personally is making 10 percent less than he did 12 years ago.

"We feel that they're trying to bust the unions," said Fuoco, an enterprise reporter who has been with the PG for 34 years. "I like working for a daily major metropolitan newspaper, and the fact that we will no longer, if they go through with this, be able to use the word 'daily' is depressing to me. ... We can do nothing but mourn the fact that this day has come. And I fear for what might come after that."

The PG's roots date to the late 1700s, when it became the first daily newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Last year, the PG stopped home delivery to certain customers to save costs, including customers in Westmoreland County.

The PG's average weekday print circulation was 159,511 as of December 2016, down about 400 copies from a year earlier, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. In the same span, the paper's paid Sunday circulation dropped 8.3 percent to 215,048 on Dec. 31, 2016, the alliance said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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