I wasn’t going to write about this subject. I don’t know why, though I suspect it’s because writing about it acknowledges the thing and it’s a scary thing. I’ll admit it: I’m a little shook up.
I’m a journalist. And the national news is about the murder of journalists. Small-time community journalists. That’s what I am.
The Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, was attacked. A thug with a shotgun and smoke grenades made a measured assault upon the paper. Five are dead; others wounded; everyone in the building terrorized.
Jarrod Ramos had sued the paper for defamation over a piece about his plea of guilty to harassing a woman over social media, it was reported. He had lost the case. He made threats in 2013; charges were dropped. Thursday, he did more than make threats – he blasted out the glass door of the newsroom then started aiming at individuals. He had barricaded the back door of the newsroom so people would not be able to escape. Thank goodness the local police arrived so quickly.
It boils down to someone out to kill people like me and my co-workers because of who they were and what they did.
Who we are and what we do.
We report the news. And we express and accommodate the expression of opinions. We believe that what we do is good for society, good for humanity, but most importantly, good for our very own community. Unfortunately, some of what we do angers other people. Perhaps it’s because they’re the subject of a story that highlights their misdeeds; or perhaps it’s that they disagree with an opinion on our editorial page. Or maybe it’s just that they’re nuts and the newspaper office is a convenient place to vent.
I wasn’t going to write, but then I went to my damned Facebook page and saw things there.
People I used to work with who are now journalists around the country or who are retired or have moved into other fields, but still have roots in journalism, were commenting. Barry posted a black ribbon with “PRESS” printed on it. Todd shared an essay a newspaper acquaintance of his wrote about the worry we all have about “one of those people” ... the ones who are off kilter one way or the other and target the newspaper, a community institution and often the vehicle of the news they don’t want anyone to see. And Todd’s wife, Joan, who was once my boss, simply posted a photo of the editorial page of The Capital Gazette ... a mostly blank page with the message: “Today, we are speechless.”
I wasn’t going to write about this because it makes me scared for my friends and colleagues and the communities they serve ... and for us, here in this news office, though it’s hard to imagine a more friendly and accepting community.
Some additional thoughts:
It’s nothing new. Journalists of every stripe have been the subjects of abusive language and threats always. And they’ve been persecuted and killed. Around the globe, there are countries and regions where journalists and/or those who utter political opinion are disappeared, jailed, butchered. Tyrants – major and minor – want us to to be censored and quieted.
Hell is a place where you have to be quiet; where you can’t talk; and you can’t write or read. There is no information shared in hell.
I’ve been shoved, yelled at, threatened, had slurs printed on the side of the building I worked in. Once I was yelled at out in public while I had my 6-year-old in tow ... that scared me, though I knew the knucklehead doing the yelling enough to know he wouldn’t actually get violent. (But nowadays, you never seem to know for sure.)
I don’t have any sort of data to show that journalists in America are abused any more than people in other businesses -- utility operations, retail outlets, fast food chains, factories and delivery services ... we’ve heard about employees in all those businesses and lots of others catching abuse.
And I do feel that the current politics exacerbates the deal for journalists. The president does his trash talking ... though most of us realize it’s just that: trash talking. We trash talk supporters of “the other team” all the time. And we journalists have always been blamed for something by the extremists and the supremacists and the rightists and the leftists.
With all that said, we’ll keep on until our key is taken away. We like what we do. We believe in what we do. And we’re pretty certain that there are many, many people who are our friends and neighbors and appreciate reporting and opinion writing, even when it sometimes rubs them the wrong way.
I don’t have a lot else to say about that, today. Or about anything else.
Except that I am very, very sorry for the people killed and wounded, their families, the employees who were left behind, the readers and community members who are now deprived of the work of those journalists.
And this: there are all sorts of people being assaulted and murdered because of who they are, where they’re at, what they do ... school children and teachers, soldiers, politicians, cops and civilians, bystanders, shoppers, moviegoers ... God bless all of them. And God bless journalists.