United States Project

‘I refused’: Fired City Paper editor claims efforts to suppress coverage

May 17, 2018
Matt Evans/Flickr

ON TUESDAY MORNING, Pittsburgh City Paper editor Charlie Deitch announced he had been fired from the alt-weekly where he’d worked for more than a decade. According to Deitch, management had recently asked that he cease covering Republican state representative Daryl Metcalfe, whom City Paper has called a “blatant obstructionist” and criticized for beliefs the paper termed “racist, xenophobic, close-minded and full of general numb-skullery.”

In December, Metcalfe proclaimed his own heterosexuality to a fellow representative and asked him to “stop touching me all the time”—a remark that briefly thrust Metcalfe into the national spotlight. (Following that incident, Deitch published several photos of Metcalfe in proximity to other male public figures in a story that referred to Metcalfe as a “local moron.”)

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Raymond Sielski, City Paper’s acting general manager, wrote to Deitch last week and asked that the editor “redirect your anti Metcalf [sic] efforts toward let’s say maybe Pittsburgh politics.” Later that day, according to Deitch, Sielski informed him that his critical coverage jeopardized business between Metcalfe and the Butler Eagle, whose parent company also owns the City Paper, and asked that he retract several stories about Metcalfe.

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Deitch refused the request, saying it would be unethical to stop covering Metcalfe, and told Sielski there was “nothing to retract.” A week later, Deitch says, Sielski and publisher Vernon “Chip” Wise III informed him, “You have to go,” and declined to provide a reason.

When CJR attempted to contact City Paper’s new editor, a receptionist was not immediately sure which desk was his.

It is not known whether City Paper’s ownership or management have asked other reporters or editors to selectively refrain from coverage. Neither Sielski nor Wise responded to requests for comment, though Wise called it a “difficult day” in a statement on the City Paper’s site and told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Deitch’s firing was not related to his coverage of Metcalfe. The day after Deitch’s firing, City Paper wrote that Metcalfe “consistently expresses anti-LGBTQ views” in a story about roadblocks to Pittsburgh’s efforts to land Amazon’s second headquarters. Deitch tells CJR he is confident the City Paper will “continue to put out the great work that they have been.”

Within hours of Deitch’s departure, City Paper appointed a new editor: Rob Rossi, a hockey columnist and writer for the Tribune-Review and its millennial-focused Upgruv publication. CJR could not ascertain whether Deitch’s claims worry Rossi, now charged with leading City Paper’s coverage. When CJR attempted to contact Rossi on Wednesday morning, a receptionist was not immediately sure which desk was his. Rossi ultimately did not respond to a request for comment.

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Since Eagle Publishing purchased City Paper in 2016, the weekly’s tone has shifted noticeably. [Disclosure: I have contributed freelance stories to City Paper since 2016.] Some longtime features have been cut, and City Paper includes more entertainment news than previous iterations. In the past year, several longtime staffers have left City Paper, including arts editor Bill O’Driscoll, news editor Rebecca Addison and associate editor Al Hoff. Deitch, who became editor around the time Eagle Publishing purchased City Paper, had been with the weekly since 2005.

Deitch says he had never before been asked to retract an article or avoid covering a person. Management supported the newsroom in March when a series of editorial missteps led to the publication of a photo of a woman bearing a white supremacist tattoo. Deitch took responsibility for the incident in a widely-praised editor’s note.

Chris Potter, a former City Paper editor and current government editor at Pittsburgh’s WESA public radio, hired Deitch in 2005. Potter tells CJR that he finds Deitch to be a credible person, and adds that management may not fully understand the functions of alt-weeklies or the sorts of work they have historically produced. He credits City Paper for “still land[ing] punches” at a generally difficult time for many alt-weeklies, but tells CJR, “I’m not sure where they go from here.”

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Kim Lyons is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other local and national publications. She was a 2015 Kiplinger Fellow in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University, and is co-host of The Broadcast Podcast, focused on amplifying women's voices.