By:
January 8, 2021

Reporters at the Toledo Blade in Ohio are holding a byline strike in response to their management’s editing of stories related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. They say the editing does not accurately reflect Wednesday’s events, when President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building to disrupt the final electoral count.

The strike, which began Thursday night, comes after readers expressed concerns about editorial decisions at the paper, the Toledo NewsGuild wrote in a press release. The union also referenced online comments falsely stating the election was stolen made by Susan Allan Block, the wife of Allan Block, chair of Blade parent company Block Communications.

“(M)anagement at The Blade manipulated wording in headlines, stories, and photo captions to alter the reality of what occurred during the insurrection at the Capitol,” the union wrote.

Editors changed stories to “muddy the waters” on who was responsible for the Capitol attack and gave orders to not refer to the rioters as Trump supporters, Blade reporter and union president Nolan Rosenkrans said at a press conference Friday.

Blade reporter Liz Skalka shared on Twitter photos of one of her stories. After she noticed that the lede in her story online had been changed to state that it was “mostly” Trump supporters who incited violence, she asked editors to remove her byline. They removed her byline, along with a reference to Trump, for the first print edition.

The union also criticized comments made by Susan Allan Block supporting the attack. In a Facebook post, she referred to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a “whore” and falsely called the election illegitimate.

“NO PEACE! NO UNITY! NO LEGITIMACY TO A STOLEN ELECTION!” Block wrote.

A Facebook post from Susan Allan Block, the wife of Allan Block, chair of Toledo Blade parent company Block Communications (Screenshot)

Block Communications’ legal team wrote in a statement to WTOL-11 that the Facebook post does not represent the views of the company as Susan Allan Block is not an employee or shareholder.

In an emailed statement to Poynter, Block Communications wrote that the Blade denies the union’s allegations of biased reporting and editing.

“The Blade’s reporting was thorough, complete, accurate, and in line with our standards for unbiased reporting of facts. Ultimately, it is ownership’s right and responsibility to ensure the accuracy and protect the journalistic integrity of our newspaper’s content- not the Toledo News Guild,” Block Communications wrote.

The company noted that “some, but by no means all” Blade reporters had asked to withhold their bylines.

“We are honoring those requests because it has and continues to be our practice to withhold individual reporters’ bylines if they request we do so. It is worth noting that under the leadership of the late publisher, Paul Block Jr. (publisher from 1942-1987), The Blade had a policy of no bylines,” the company wrote.

Newspapers almost always run author bylines alongside their stories. Byline strikes are sometimes deployed during labor disputes to signal to readers that reporters are dissatisfied with their management’s conduct.

Block Communications also owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Members of the Block family have supported Trump and have been accused of pressuring reporters in the past to edit stories to reflect a more conservative bent.

Under the Blocks’ ownership, the Post-Gazette faced controversy for publishing an inflammatory “Reason as Racism” editorial in 2018 and for barring Alexis Johnson, a Black reporter, from covering the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. Post-Gazette reporters who tweeted in support of Johnson were also barred from covering protests. Johnson later left and sued the paper alleging discrimination and illegal retaliation.

At the Friday press conference, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh unit secretary Ashley Murray said they are calling on the Blocks to apologize for the Facebook post and to negotiate a contract with the two unions. Journalists at both papers have not received a raise in more than 14 years.

“There can be differences in opinions about style or coverage choice,” the union wrote. “But we, both union and management, in the newsroom are journalists, should maintain the same coverage standards and choices, regardless of ownership’s political views.”

This article was updated to include a statement from Block Communications. 

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Angela Fu is a freelance reporter based in Birmingham, Ala. and a contributor to Poynter.org. She can be reached at angelafu7@gmail.com or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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