Just days after the fatal shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, a New Yorker cartoon appeared in my newsfeed.
It’s an illustration of a doctor speaking with a forlorn-looking patient sitting on the examination table.
“Here’s your problem – it looks like you’re paying attention to what’s going on,” the cartoon is captioned.
As much as reading the news and staying informed is vital to what I do – and, I believe, vital to anyone who believes in democracy and the rights afforded therein – it can get a little exhausting, right?
Reporters work with tragedy more or less for a living – there’s a reason that one of the most frequent gripes we hear is that there’s not enough good news in the paper – but I was personally very shocked and saddened by the newspaper shooting last week.
For those who may not know, the Capital Gazette is the newspaper of record in Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland. It’s a daily paper with a circulation of about 33,000; relatively large for a community-based paper. On Thursday, a gunman killed five employees, four of them editors and reporters and injured two more. The shooter was a disgruntled reader, upset that his nuisance defamation lawsuit had been dismissed and an appeal rejected.
Working in community news, I believe there’s a tendency to view all reporters as your colleagues. Let’s face it: there are relatively few of us left. Staff and publications are being cut all the time, and few people understand the challenges of the job the way another community reporter does. I think I speak for a lot of reporters (especially those of us just entering the profession, at a difficult time to become a reporter) when I saw that we don’t do the job because it pays well, is easy, or is always a good time. We do it because we love it. We eat, sleep and breath our communities, for better and for worse. It’s a unique job with unique challenges. As evidenced by their coverage and their dozens and dozens of years of experience in local news, the reporters at the Capital Gazette truly loved their jobs. What happened is heartbreaking.
There’s not a reporter I know that hasn’t been threatened with a lawsuit at least once, myself included. Then, of course, there are the angry readers, the threatening phone calls, the unannounced visits to offices. All of this to say: what happened in Maryland is very real to me, and very real to every reporter I know. I wrote this column because as a reporter, it is incumbent on me to recognize and remember what happened. The fact is, it could happen to any one of my colleagues.
But for you, readers – why should you care that some reporters died at a newspaper thousands of miles and an entire country away?
The answer is simple: in a climate of fake news, and “enemy of the people” rhetoric, this is another devastating blow to local news, and local news exists everywhere. It is the glue of communities both large and small. Journalists died for doing their jobs; think about that.
This isn’t Russia or Mexico or Turkey or North Korea. This was the United States, and what happened there is something that should concern every one of us. Journalists everywhere, regardless of whether their work is pertinent to you or not, contribute to a free, thriving and democratic press. We cannot allow this to become the norm.