A sad day for the free press

Today is a sad day to be a journalist.

And today, especially, is a sad day to be a journalist at a community newspaper.

Today, we are reminded that, in doing our due diligence as reporters and editors and upholding all Americans’ 1st Amendment right to a free press, we put ourselves at grave risk.

Our hearts break for the five local newspaper staff members who lost their lives in the Capital-Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday afternoon.

To them, it was a normal work day.

The Capital staff had just finished covering a busy primary election, and were gearing up for Induction Day at the U.S. Naval Academy, located six miles away from the Capital offices.

Their newspaper is bigger, but really not unlike our own.

It has a staff of 31, an open newsroom where community members drop in to deliver news, messages and say hello, and where staff cover local government, school boards, high school sports, zoning issues and even an occasional cat stuck in a tree.

The disturbing trend of mass shootings by a lone gunman in the United States is universally tragic.

But today, as we mourn the members of the Capital staff who were killed, it feels especially sickening.

Because these people who work at the Capital Gazette continued to do their jobs as this tragedy unfolded.

Selene San Felice used the phone of Anthony Messenger, the summer intern, to break the news of the shooting over Twitter as they hid under a desk.

Phil Davis, courts and crime reporter, tweeted updates after getting to safety.

An article about the shooting was published on the Capital’s website not 20 minutes after it happened.

Capital photojournalist Joshua McKerrow, who had been out of the office during the shooting, documented the scene as he arrived.

And that evening, reporter Chase Cook tweeted, “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

Remember, many of these people thought they were going to die, and some had just found out their friends and co-workers were shot and killed.

But they continued to work.

The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, an Annapolis, Md., man, had filed lawsuits–all of which he lost–against the paper alleging a 2011 column defamed him.

The column discussed Ramos’ guilty plea to criminal harassment of a woman over social media.

Just two days before the shooting, right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopolous told a reporter over text that he couldn’t wait for “vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight.” He sent a similar message to another reporter, and tried to justify his words by saying he was simply “trolling” journalists he didn’t want to respond to.

Our president, Donald Trump, has lodged countless attacks against the media and individual reporters, claiming news that undermines his comments or policies is “fake news.”

At a 2017 rally, he called journalists “sick people” and questioned their patriotism, accusing them of “trying to take away our history and our heritage.” He has even gone so far as saying “news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.”

This, everyone, is what it means to be a journalist in this day and age.

We are here to tell you we are not your enemy. We have never been your enemy, dear reader.

We are, however, the enemy of disinformation.

We are the enemy of ignorance and apathy.

The newspaper exists as a service to the community to report issues that affect us all. Advertising dollars are invested in community journalism.

Whether it is helping non-profits spread their message and assistance throughout the region, diving deep on challenging and controversial local issues, or just plain wishing your grandmother a happy birthday, newspapers are a community asset in a world which has increasingly abandoned the idea that a sense of community is important.

A rising number of people are disappointed in our political process, but it bears consideration that the alternative to politics is conflict. Politics is supposed to be a vehicle by which disparate groups of people can discuss challenging issues rationally with one another, and reach a mutually acceptable compromise.

This shooting, as well as the others which have preceded it and those which will doubtless follow it, is a symptom of our society’s inability to sit down with respect and talk to one another, despite–or specifically because of–our differences.

We all must embrace our neighbor, or this tragedy will repeat itself again and again and again, as the fires of our primal brains are stoked to react with fear and anger against those who are different than us.

In a world that is desperate to divide us, stand together.

In a world where fear seeks to tear us down, stand tall.

Threatened by those who claim defamation, reviled by the current government and taunted by talking heads who are content to live in a shell of lies, journalists soldier on, doing the job that must be done to maintain a free and fair society.

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