February 14, 2019

Pittsburgh publisher’s newsroom rant: ‘It was wild’

Earlier this week, there were reports that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson (JR) Block entered the paper’s newsroom late Saturday night and went “berserk.” We’re now finding out exactly what berserk means.

In a stunning release by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, four eyewitnesses recounted what they saw: a man who was possibly drunk and definitely out of control.

Alex Miller, a paginator, wrote:

“I’ve been working in newsrooms for more than a decade, and this is the most bizarre thing I’ve seen. JR behaved in a way that would get any ordinary employee fired on the spot and escorted out of the building for everybody’s safety. He appeared totally out of control. He was loud and violent, and it was frightening to witness because he was so erratic. There was no way for anybody to know what he might do next.”

Miller added: “It was wild.”

John Block, publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Photo: Rebecca Droke/Post Gazette)

According to the witness statements, Block entered the newsroom with his pre-teen daughter Saturday around 10 p.m. Upset by a pro-union poster on the wall, Block started yelling, waving his arms and, at one point, demanding someone take a photo of him and his crying daughter next to the poster.

Marianne Mizera, a web editor, wrote, “It was clear he was intoxicated.”

Mizera said Block’s daughter was so upset that Mizera took her to the cafeteria just to get her away from the situation.

“JR was ranting like a madman,” night cops reporter Andrew Goldstein wrote, “and his daughter was visibly terrified.”

Goldstein said Block “ripped” the cell phone out of his daughter’s hand because she might have been calling her mother. He added, “Having to watch as JR terrorized his teenage daughter — with his hair disheveled and his face twisted — was something I’m never going to forget.”

The commotion ended up spilling into the office of managing editor Sally Stapleton, where Block said the paper was “going to hell” and allegedly threatened to “burn the place down.” He also threatened to fire several employees. Staffers said it was impossible to get work done as the paper approached deadline because of the surreal scene playing out in front of them.

This is just a portion of what the four witnesses said happened during a scene that lasted more than an hour. Eventually, Block and his daughter left in an Uber, the report said.

“Personally, I was horrified by what I witnessed,” Goldstein wrote. “I was extremely concerned for (Block’s pre-teen daughter’s) safety, and I actually noticed that my heart was racing. It was sickening and one of the worst things I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness, certainly in an office setting.”

The guild decided to release these statements in response to comments by Block’s twin brother, Allan, who is the media company’s chairman. Allan Block told NEXT Pittsburgh, in part, that Block Communications, “regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the Post-Gazette.”

Lester Holt on Poynter’s MediaWise: ‘Honored to play a small part’

In this screenshot from “NBC Nightly News,” host Lester Holt talks to four students at a Washington, D.C., high school in his new role as the first ambassador for Poynter’s MediaWise, a program designed to help young people discern fact from fiction online.

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt is teaming up with Poynter to teach teenagers how to recognize fake news. Holt joins Poynter’s MediaWise project as its first MediaWise Ambassador. As Poynter’s Mel Grau writes, “The mission of the project is to teach 1 million teenagers — half from underserved communities — how to sort fact from fiction online by 2020 through new curriculum, in-person events at schools nationwide and social media content and outreach.”

“Fact-checking and identifying trustworthy sources is something I’ve done every day for over four decades,” Holt told Poynter. “But in today’s noisy media environment, those skills are just as important for our readers and viewers as they are for those of us doing the reporting. MediaWise will help instill those values at a young age and I’m honored to play a small part in educating a new generation of thoughtful and discerning news consumers.”

In his first appearance as MediaWise Ambassador on Wednesday, Holt helped lead a teaching event at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., and chronicled the experience in a segment for “NBC Nightly News.”

Journalist arrested in major free press case

Maria Ressa, center, the award-winning head of a Philippine online news site Rappler, listens to a reporter’s question after posting bail at a Regional Trial Court following an overnight arrest by National Bureau of Investigation agents on a libel case Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

A veteran Philippine journalist was arrested Wednesday and charged with cyber libel. Maria Ressa, who was among several reporters named as Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018, has been a frequent target of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte. Before Wednesday, Ressa already was facing tax evasion charges, which many claim are an attempt to intimidate her.

Wednesday’s arrest stems from a story published in May of 2012. Ressa and researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr., who also was arrested, wrote about a former impeached chief justice on the digital news site Rappler, of which Ressa is the editor and founder. Wilfredo D. Keng, a businessman mentioned in the story, filed the libel complaint for being described as having links to human trafficking and drugs.

Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, “The Philippine government’s legal harassment of Rappler and Ressa has now reached a critical and alarming juncture. We call on Filipino authorities to immediately release Ressa, drop this spurious cyber libel charge, and cease and desist this campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing Rappler.’’

Ressa was able to make bail after spending the night in jail.

Who owns the rights?

Let’s say you’re a writer for the Los Angeles Times. Let’s say you write a book related to what you cover. Let’s even say that book is fictional. Shouldn’t you get to decide if that book gets written? Shouldn’t you own the copyright? Shouldn’t you get paid for it?

Not if the Los Angeles Times has its way. That’s according to an open letter written by the L.A Times Guild to the Times. In it, the Guild writes that in current contract negotiations, the Times wants “unfettered power” to who gets all of the above, in addition to who might get the rights if the book is made into a film.

The Guild claims that no other newspaper, including the New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal, has “contract language this strict.”

“We’re worried that such policies would not only drive away talented recruits who might be interested in working for The Times,’’ the Guild writes, “but it might also perversely incentivize Times journalists to quit in order to develop projects.”

It seems like a petty argument the Times is making. And what’s fair is fair: If you write the book, you should get credit for it. As the Guild points out, if this rule was in effect a few years ago, maybe Times metro columnist Steve Lopez’s columns about the homeless don’t lead him to write what eventually turned into the movie “The Soloist” with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

“If these books didn’t exist,” the Guild writes, “readers everywhere would be poorer for it.”

Worth mentioning

Matt Thompson has been named the new editor in chief of The Center for Investigative Reporting. He is currently the executive editor of The Atlantic.

Did Sri Lanka really put an ad in the state-run paper looking for two executioners? The New York Post has the details.

It was 50 years ago: the premier of “Sesame Street,” the Manson Family murders, Vietnam, space travel, Richard Nixon. The Atlantic looks back at 1969 in photos.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the school shootings in Parkland, Florida. The New York Times looks back at what has happened since then.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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