Last week, a gunman walked into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland and opened fire, killing five dedicated journalists: Gerald Fischman, 61; Rob Hiaasen, 59; John McNamara, 56; Rebecca Smith, 34; and Wendi Winters, 65. While mass shootings have become a somewhat regular occurrence in the United States, this was the first mass casualty attack on a group of journalists since 2015, when 12 employees of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, were killed in their office in Paris.
In many ways, when you sign up to be a journalist, you understand it comes with a certain amount of discomfort and, in some cases, a danger inherent in carrying out important work, especially for those editors and reporters on the front lines of crisis, whether they are abroad or at home. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 33 reporters, editors and photographers have been killed worldwide so far in 2018, many in the Middle East, but also in Mexico, Columbia, India, the Philippines, Russia and, now, the United States.
The Capital Gazette is a company rooted in community journalism. Some of its stories this week are about local firefighters in Glen Burnie rallying around one of their own who is suffering from cancer; the Stanley Cup coming to Annapolis; police news, government reporting and other community news you would expect in a relevant local newspaper. This week, editors and reporters are also telling their own stories, both in hard news pieces about what happened last Thursday, and in individual profiles of their colleagues — colleagues who deserve to be remembered for their individual passions, and the verve they brought to their work in the newsroom.
To be clear, the Capital Gazette was allegedly targeted by suspect Jarrod Ramos, a 38-year-old who unsuccessfully tried to sue the newspaper for defamation in 2012 and now is being held without bail facing five first-degree murder charges. This was not a political attack. That said, there has been an increasingly violent rhetoric about journalists in the Age of Trump that encompasses everyone in our field, including many who have literally put their lives on the line covering important stories around the world, leaving families behind to do the work of being a journalist. Yet, in a blanket statement, our field is called by the President of the United States the “enemy” of the people.
In divisive times like this, community journalism has the power to bring people together and shine light on truth, rather than keep information shrouded in the dark.
Most readers know we are not the enemy. Community journalists, like those at the Capital Gazette, are committed daily to the places we live and work, serving as watchdogs for corruption while offering important financial analysis for taxpayers, detailing the ins and outs and ups and downs of local government and education, and of course, local sports, arts and culture.
We try to be storytellers, record keepers, covering, in a non-partisan way, how our communities are changing and evolving, capturing grand and quiet stories of triumph and defeat. It’s not always fun work, and it’s often difficult. Often there are important stories a local journalist doesn’t want to report but does anyway because it’s his or her responsibility to do so.
And we are also human beings. Last Thursday we mourned. And there was also fear. At a time when the leader of our country inspires hatred against us and others to nourish his base, all newsrooms feel vulnerable.
And then, after some time for grief and dread, we got back to work, just like the staff of the Capital Gazette.