Lisa Cunningham, Former Editor-in-Chief of the Pittsburgh City Paper, Issues Statement About Sudden Resignation

This is a public statement from Lisa Cunningham, former editor-in-chief of the Pittsburgh City Paper. She resigned today after nearly 25 years with the publication. Read on to see how the overlords at the Butler Eagle not only undermined the strike of the Post-Gazette employees by printing the paper, but apparently treat their City Paper employees with contempt and disdain. I am quite worried we will lose the CP along with the Post-Gazette which would be terrible blows for the public. Read on to see how Lisa is asking us to support the staff at the City Paper and independent journalism in Pittsburgh ~ Sue

Today, just a few days short of my 25th anniversary, I quit Pittsburgh City Paper. 

For the past 25 years, I have dedicated my life to the city’s altweekly, but I will no longer work under abusive conditions. To stay would go against everything our newsroom has stood for since its conception and I was left with no other option than to resign.

I have dedicated my entire career to this company because I believe in its mission, the amazing people in our community who I have had the ultimate privilege to cover, and the wonderful people in our newsroom who I’m honored to still stand beside. 

I only accepted the position of Editor in Chief in 2018 — after first being hired as a graphic designer in 1997, and then being promoted over the years to production director, art director, and managing editor — under the condition that Butler Eagle, who purchased Pittsburgh City Paper from Steel City Media in 2016, would stay out of our newsroom. Ron Vodenichar, current president of Butler Eagle, and Tammy Schuey, current general manager of Butler Eagle, were on the phone call.

I made sure to make this a condition of my hiring following how Butler Eagle publicly handled the previous firing of former CP editor Charlie Deitch, who claimed he was fired for not writing about politician Daryl Metcalfe.

Yesterday, City Paper’s newsroom heard a rumor that Butler Eagle published the weekend edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after workers for the P-G went on strike. I immediately emailed Tammy Schuey and asked her if she could confirm, and said that if it were true, we needed to disclose this information because we’ve been heavily covering the Post-Gazette strike. After she did not respond, I also sent her a text.

Today, after still not receiving any response from Schuey, City Paper’s newsroom received a press release from the Guild, noting they were calling for a boycott of Butler Eagle for printing the Post-Gazette. I immediately forwarded the press release to Schuey and again expressed my concern that this could cause serious harm to our newsroom if we did not disclose this information, and that we needed to do a story on the boycott.

I asked Schuey if she could provide a quote or talk to our newsroom on the phone if she preferred. After again receiving no response, I sent her a text and also asked one of the other members of our management team to also text her to express the urgency. I also confirmed with a Butler Eagle employee that she was at work. When she still didn’t respond, I followed up again and told her we needed to get ahead of this situation, that I was worried about the harm this would cause our newsroom, and sent her a statement another member of our newsroom and I had penned and wanted to publish with the story. After she still didn’t respond, I sent another text telling her that I would be posting the statement if I didn’t hear back soon.

She finally texted me back and said she hadn’t yet seen my emails from today but “I am a little afraid to look at it based on your text.”

I immediately replied, “Seriously afraid if we don’t respond, CP will be in serious danger. Trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Then explained the press release, that we’ve been contacted by other members of the media about the situation, and expressed my need to respond asap.

Shortly after, I received a phone call from Schuey and Vodenichar. She said they were “disappointed.” I asked, “Disappointed in me? I’m trying to save our company.”

She said they didn’t like that our statement included the fact that we condemned their decision. I said, “We can take that line out, but we need to make it clear our newsrooms run independently of each other,” which they have done under my editorship.

Vodenichar then proceeded to yell at me, saying I was losing them money because we weren’t selling ads, something that doesn’t fall under my department. I told him that I’ve been working 60 hours a week, putting my heart and soul into the newspaper, and I’ve also been talking to the advertising department in an attempt to help. He then mockingly said, “Cry me a river,” and repeatedly shouted that I was a liar about working overtime, even though Schuey told him during the phone call, “She’s not lying.” 

Vodenichar then said, “If you publish anything about this, you’re done.”

I was left with no other choice but to quit.

Several weeks prior to this incident, when I told Vodenichar and Schuey that we were “incredibly short staffed and struggling to cover everything as it is,” and that I was taking “my first days off in over a year,” he responded by texting, “Understaffed huh? I don’t need the attitude.”

At that point, I contacted the two other members of City Paper’s management team and encouraged them to document any concerns they had about our current working conditions. 

I wholeheartedly believe Pittsburgh needs Pittsburgh City Paper, and I’m asking the public to continue to support the publication and its dedicated and talented employees. But no employee should be forced to work under such abusive conditions, and I am publicly calling for another entity to purchase the paper away from its current owner. 

Until then, I am calling for the public to get it in writing that membership dollars will go towards the support of City Paper staff, I am calling for Butler Eagle to hire an HR department so its employees have somewhere to turn when situations like this arise, and I am also publicly encouraging Pittsburgh City Paper employees to start a union, something I wish someone had helped our staff with a long time ago.

Let it be clear that I do condemn Butler Eagle’s decision to print the Post-Gazette during a strike, and I condemn any business that allows its employees to work under abusive conditions.

City Papers’ editorial department has great things on the horizon. There are a lot of important stories and events on the dock. The newsroom is currently in a DEIB training that has been working to help us not only with hiring practices but to improve the infrastructure of the newsroom, something that has been long overdue as CP managers are given no training and no support.

Please help me make sure that City Paper survives, and that its current employees are treated better than I have been. 


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