One week after former Pittsburgh City Paper Editor Charlie Deitch’s well-publicized dismissal from the local alt-weekly, City Paper Marketing Director Bethany Ruhe said she received a call from Ron Vodenichar, Butler Eagle publisher and general manager, asking if she was stupid.
In the wake of Deitch’s dismissal, which he alleges was due to his critical coverage of conservative PA State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, readers had inundated the CP’s social media pages with comments, not all of them polite.
Things were getting out of hand, according to Ruhe, and that’s why she took the step of posting the City Paper’s publicly-available commenting policy on their Facebook page. It was then that she got the phone call from Vodenichar, who Ruhe says was upset with her decision. (Eagle Media, publishers of the Butler Eagle and Cranberry Eagle, purchased the Pittsburgh City Paper from Steel City Media in 2016.)
“The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I have a question for you: are you stupid?’ Which is not the best way to start a conversation,” said Ruhe.
Reached by phone for comment on Ruhe’s claim, Vodenichar said he had never heard of NEXTpittsburgh.
“I don’t care about you. I don’t care about NEXTpittsburgh. This whole thing has become a joke. Good luck to you,” he said as he hung up.
Ruhe said she responded to Vodenichar with some not-so-nice words of her own before walking off the job. After she told her boyfriend what had transpired, the next person she reached out to was Deitch.
Now, Deitch and Ruhe are working to launch the Pittsburgh Current, a print and online publication that will allow Deitch to do what he does best: play the role of agitator.
“To be honest, there’s nowhere for me to go in Pittsburgh media,” said Deitch. “Doing the job that I’ve done at City Paper, I’ve burned a few bridges. I’ve made a few friends, too, but I can’t imagine catching on at the P-G or Trib.”
Deitch will take on the role of publisher while Ruhe will handle the business and marketing end of things. Deitch says that he sees the alt-weekly’s role as “to be that outside voice, to be the voice of dissent, to tell the stories no one else is telling.”
Deitch believes that the Pittsburgh media landscape is “a little frightening” at the moment. His firing took place a few weeks before the Post-Gazette fired longtime editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, who refused to stop publishing cartoons critical of President Trump. This Tuesday, Post-Gazette reporters and newsroom editors took out ads in the PG itself reinforcing themselves as an independent entity distinct from the paper’s editorial board.
Readers, Deitch said, “deserve to know that the information you’re selling them is legitimate, true, accurate and unfettered by outside influence.” He added that advertisers in The Current will not have any input over editorial content.
Ruhe said that many sponsors approached them to advertise in the first issue, in large part due to Deitch’s reputation. The print edition debuts July 11 with plans to publish monthly. The website is live now.
Plans are still in the works for distribution but they anticipate being in 100 to 150 locations upon launch, at all the staple alt-weekly locations like bars and coffee shops. They also have a connection lined up for a few stand-alone news boxes.
Deitch says the Current will be heavy on alt-weekly staples like music, arts and entertainment coverage. There will also be a small business section, focused primarily on local mom-and-pop stores, and they hope to eventually have a brick-and-mortar storefront somewhere in an up-and-coming Pittsburgh neighborhood.
UPDATE: Yesterday, Pittsburgh Current sent a press release announcing that it “will be the first Pittsburgh publication to carry former Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers. An agreement was reached with this morning with Andrews McMeel Universal, Rogers syndication group, for the Pittsburgh Current to begin sharing Rogers’ cartoons online Monday, and for inclusion in all future print issues.”
They also intend to have their features available online in Spanish and Deitch plans for a renewed emphasis on long-form journalism, taking on subjects like over-incarceration, poverty and equitable transportation in Pittsburgh.
City Paper veteran Mike Wysocki will have a column, as will former Lt. Gov. candidate and Iraq War veteran Aryanna Berringer. Former City Paper Music Editor Margaret Welsh will return to the same role at The Current, and other CP alums, like news editor Rebecca Addison, will also contribute.
Deitch has also launched a Kickstarter to help cover start-up costs. As we publish this story, the Current has already reached $11,721 of its $15,000 goal.
“I don’t want it to become an issue that journalists in this city are afraid to tackle controversial topics because they’re afraid they might lose their jobs,” says Deitch. “It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about, and I’ve worked for some jerks […] I worried about losing my job for financial reasons, but I never worried about losing my job because I reported on the wrong thing.”
Disclosure: The author has freelanced for the Pittsburgh City Paper since 2014. Bethany Ruhe has freelanced for NEXTpittsburgh.