By:
April 25, 2019

Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for its coverage of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. On that same day, Meagen Fekos, a 27-year-old assistant managing editor, resigned from the Post-Gazette.

Why?

She said she always wanted to be a journalist. She loved the paper. The paper was happy with her. She thought she would stay in newspapers forever.

Then she and her husband decided to have a child.

Suddenly, Fekos, now 35 weeks pregnant, began to reexamine her life, her career and her future — as a mom and as a wife to her husband, Konstantine Fekos, a former journalist himself.

I reached out to Fekos via email to talk about her decision to leave her dream job for one in communications at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How long were you at the Post-Gazette?

Just over a year. I started in March of 2018.

What all have you done there?

I was the assistant managing editor/digital. I managed the web team, which is the driving force behind post-gazette.com and all social media platforms, and the interactive design team, which built our large-scale projects that you can see here.

How old are you and where were you before the Post-Gazette?

I am 27, and I started in professional journalism two days after I graduated from college (Edinboro University in 2014, and got my Masters from there in 2016), and haven’t stopped until now. It’s something I’ve truly loved and found such fulfillment in. I worked first as a reporter for the Sharon Herald in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Then I was promoted to a digital editor for CNHI and worked primarily with The Herald and New Castle News. I also worked as a website producer for LNP Media Group in Lancaster.

Did you always want to go into journalism?
Absolutely. Writing has always been my passion, and I wanted to do it in a capacity that served the community. Despite going to college at a time when people started warning others away from the field, I have a mother who insists my sister and I could lasso the moon if we work hard enough, and she pushed me to never give up the dream. The other driving force was my Pap (grandfather), who helped me get into college when I was really in a bind. He did it on the contingency of me outlining a plan to climb the mountains he knew I’d face in journalism. He passed away my first semester of college, and it’s been a personal mission to not let him down.

Why are you leaving the Post-Gazette? Was it your choice?

There’s no denying that the Post-Gazette has gone through a lot of changes, even in the short time I’ve been there. And the departures of (former executive editor) David Shribman and (former managing editor) Sally Stapleton certainly left their mark —  after all, they were our leaders and deeply ingrained in the fabric of the newsroom.

Beyond that, journalism is certainly not accused of being a stable career for anyone, and I’ve always wanted to explore other ways to use my skills to serve different audiences. The choice to leave was my own, and I’m very grateful for the time I had at the PG, with the newsroom as a whole and particularly with the teams that I worked with directly.

How much does your impending parenthood play in all this?

My pregnancy played a huge role in this decision. I’m in my third trimester now, and parental support is something that I think needs complete reformation in the country as a whole. Journalism is particularly guilty of becoming our identity, and I found myself on call constantly, jumping on emails at 3 a.m. if I woke up for a glass of water or logging back on as soon as I got home — nothing out of the ordinary to any journalist. But while I want to be fully committed to my job, I realized that I can’t do that 24/7 and commit myself to my son to the degree that he deserves AND still be a wife, sister, aunt, daughter, etc. I know others do it beautifully, but I have no idea when they go grocery shopping, for example, and I admire them a great deal.

What are your feelings about leaving the Post-Gazette and a newsroom?

Leaving the PG — and journalism — really has weighed on me. It was a very difficult decision and I have shed too many tears about it both before and after announcing my departure. The newsroom is made up of some incredible journalists, and being even a small part of bringing their stories to life was an incredible adventure. However, I have always had the desire eventually move into a different field that would still serve a bigger purpose than just making money while allowing me to use those journalism skills. I never thought I’d make the switch at this moment in my life (with a son on the way), but I also believe that everything worked out in the absolute best way possible for me personally.

You turned in your resignation on the day the Post-Gazette won the Pulitzer?

Talk about irony, right? I tendered my resignation Monday morning and was out of the office for a doctor’s appointment when I got a Slack message from Jim telling me that the Post-Gazette had won. I decided that I wouldn’t distract from that news with my own, and held off (telling anyone else) until the next day. I couldn’t have asked for a more meaningful send-off than that.

I was not in the newsroom when the Tree of Life shooting happened — but I was one of the first ones to get in because I only lived a few minutes away at the time. There was absolutely zero thought about prizes or accolades that day, or the weeks and months of coverage that continued after that. We were all there because these were our neighbors, our friends, our community. This wasn’t another mass shooting that we were pulling wire on — this was deeply personal. People were just showing up to help in any way they could because we had to serve our own community and try to keep them informed while we got through this together. I am so, so humbled to have been a part of that.

When it was announced that the Post-Gazette had won a Pulitzer, did you regret your decision at all?

There was definitely a shocked moment of pause, but in the end, it really just gave me a sense of finality.

Back in February, the Post-Gazette’s publisher, John Robinson Block is reported to have come into the newsroom and created a pretty ugly scene by going on rant about the paper and some of its employees. Did that controversy play into your decision to leave?

To be clear, I wasn’t there the night that transpired. I do believe, though, that a safe work environment is critical, and that all companies should take steps to make sure employees feel that their safety is the top priority. That kind of commitment is definitely something that I prioritize, as I’m sure employees everywhere do when considering their positions.

What is it you are going to be doing now?

I’m excited to be joining Carnegie Mellon University in a role that will allow me to continue to focus on digital and engagement efforts. I believe that higher education serves a mission that includes human connections and personal growth. I really believe in what they’re doing for their communities and think it’ll be a good fit for me.

Do you ever envision returning to a newsroom?

Never say never, but I believe that this transition is right for me.

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