I returned from a few days camping with friends at a bluegrass festival to hard news, as they say in the newspaper business.
While catching up on the national and local happenings, I read that five fellow newspaper professionals had been killed in a rampage at the Capital Gazette of Annapolis offices in Maryland just three days earlier.
Police were on the scene in two minutes, according to the Associate Press story about the incident, and the suspect, Jarrod J. Ramos, who targeted the Capital Gazette offices years after the paper reported that he had pled guilty to harassing a woman, was arrested and charged. Ramos unsuccessfully tried to sue the paper for defamation, adding to his resentment.
Initially, news reports suggested that recent attacks on the media via President Trump’s Tweets may have sparked the incident. But that had little to do with the shooter’s motives. Still, at a time when journalists are repeatedly called liars, the senseless deaths hit home.
Eliminated from this world are five talented individuals dedicated to serving their readers and public life. One county councilman told the Associated Press that editorial page editor Gerald Fischman asked tough questions during endorsement interviews, saying, “He treated council races like they were presidential races.”
Another victim, Rebecca Smith, was a sales assistant whose work had nothing to do with the story about Ramos or his ensuing lawsuit. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Unlike in many other professions, journalists’ work is completely public and on display. When we report something, it’s seen by all of our readers whose reactions can vary widely depending on their interpretations.
In some cases, our work can ignite violent retaliation. At my last paper, the Nassau Herald, my editor related that once a brick had been thrown through her office window.
Perhaps the use of vague labels allows the public to disassociate from the actual people behind the work. Once all journalists are labeled “the media,” stereotypes can emerge. The same is true when lumping all elected officials and municipal workers as “the government.”
People with a host of different talents and expertise work at these jobs and don’t deserve the stereotype. You can agree with some and disagree with others, but understand they’re all individuals.
Unfortunately, at the Capital Gazette, where a grudge against the paper incited one unstable man to violence, those lives have been lost. Perhaps no lessons on compassion would have saved them. Whatever we can learn from those deaths is a tribute to their lives.