I wanted to write something about this tragedy at the newspaper yesterday but couldn’t find the right words all day. I still don’t think I have those words but I also cannot remain silent any longer. I just don’t know how best to articulate what it’s like to have the fear of risking your life for trying to tell the truth about your community.
I’m a local reporter just like the shooting victims were. I wrote the same types of stories, editorials and shot photos & video packages for local publications I’ve worked at, just as they did for their local paper. This attack is personal for me. It could have been any one of us. Myself, my friends & colleagues. In fact, my friend and frequent colleague Charlie, editor of New Brunswick Today in New Brunswick, NJ, for which I still occasionally write and edit, was threatened a few months ago by a member of the housing board for recording a public meeting. This is not okay.
I also refuse to accept the narrative that this tragedy was not in any way motivated by the consistent attacks on the press led by this administration. It may be a byproduct in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps not directly responsible for the attack, but the toxic rhetoric was certainly unhelpful in developing an environment of hostility towards members of the press. The last murder of journalists in the U.S. was of the TV reporters who were shot and killed while on air in 2015. And although, that was a situation with a disgruntled employee seeking revenge, still, it was a premeditated attack.
The Annapolis shooting is different. It’s very obviously a retaliation for editorial coverage which was perceived as unfair by the perpetrator of the crime. This is far more scary for reporters who regularly receive death threats and vulgarities for their coverage. It definitely put a chill in all of us in journalism yesterday and will definitely make us second guess ourselves the next time that we write a story surrounded by controversy. And I hate to admit this, but we saw it coming. The whole trend of hate speech towards journalism and reporters was bound to have consequences one way or another.
The day after is tough. But we have to keep moving forward despite the heavy loss. At the end of the day, the best way to honor my colleagues in Annapolis is to keep doing this type of work. The Capital Gazette put out a newspaper this morning. And just the same, the rest of us will keep writing, shooting pictures and video and continuing doing our best in covering our communities. It’s what we know how to do well, even in the face of fear and risks of backlash from those very same communities on our pages.
I like to think of us reporters as first-responders in a way — when everyone is running from danger, we run toward it to document it. But most importantly, and this can’t be emphasized enough today and everyday, staying safe out there while doing our jobs so we can come home to our loved ones. As I’ve said — just like first-responders.
Those of us in this industry understand the plight of journalism. It is notorious for the low wages, long hours & less than ideal working conditions. All of this on top of turmoil in the industry with consolidation bringing about looming layoffs, buyouts, etc…
Nonetheless, the work we do is crucial for the future of our country. Despite what you hear from elected officials, journalism is one of the most patriotic vocations in the U.S. There is a reason that the free press is explicitly protected by the First Amendment and it is because the Founding Fathers understood the importance of the Fourth Estate as a check on government power.
This tragedy reminds us how fragile our values are and why it is important to remind ourselves the historic ideals that brought about the birth of this nation. Perhaps, it is time that the general public finds the will to appreciate the value of our work in society and journalism’s importance to democracy and the future of the United States of America.