Last Thursday, a man walked into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, with a shotgun and opened fire, killing five and wounding two more before he was taken into custody by police.
First of all, we mourn our fellow journalists who were killed last Thursday — Capital Gazette assistant editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, special publications editor Wendi Winters, writer John McNamara, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman and sales assistant Rebecca Smith.
Second, last Thursday’s shooting in Annapolis also serves as a grim reminder that our industry, though not a high-risk line of work, is not a risk-free one, either.
At the Powell Tribune, we strive very hard to put out a high-quality newspaper. However, we do sometimes receive complaints. For the most part, they are quickly resolved.
Sometimes it is a mistake on our end. We misspell someone’s name, transpose a digit in a number or something similar. When the mistake is pointed out to us, we apologize and acknowledge our error with a printed correction and that’s the end of it.
Occasionally, someone will disagree with something that we say. Maybe they take issue with the way a story is written or they disagree with an editorial. But for the most part, even those situations are resolved amicably through a conversation.
That was not the case at the Capital Gazette. Alleged shooter Jarrod Ramos sued the paper in 2012 for defamation over a column from the previous year that detailed his stalking and harassment of a female acquaintance. While the judge threw Ramos’ lawsuit out of court — finding the article “appears to be substantially accurate” — his grudge against the paper remained and ultimately led to last Thursday’s shooting.
Again, the situation is a rarity, but the risk of it is not zero.
Other events also remind us that our industry is not risk-free. According to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, 46 journalists have been physically attacked or had equipment damaged since January 2017. Also, the Committee to Protect Journalists said that before the Annapolis shooting, seven journalists had been killed in the United States in relation to their work dating back to 1992.
David Minsky, a freelance journalist, was covering a protest in Berkeley, California, last summer when he was attacked and beaten by masked protesters. Chase Karacostas, a reporter for The Daily Texan in Austin, was attacked while covering a protest on Sept. 1, 2017. Ten days later, Randy Turner — who runs The Turner Report in Joplin, Missouri — was assaulted at his home, possibly by someone who Turner had written about a few days prior.
Sometimes even leaving work can be dangerous. Kent Heitholt, the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri, was murdered in the paper’s parking lot shortly after leaving work for the night in the fall of 2001.
Having said that, the rewards of journalism vastly outweigh its risks. We keep the people informed, we hold public and government entities accountable, and last but not least, we enjoy telling people’s stories. We love what we do.
Perhaps the best example of that comes out of Annapolis. Despite the deaths of five of their colleagues, the staff of the Capital Gazette refused to let the attack deter them from putting out a newspaper the next day, working in a parking garage to put together the next edition.
What better proof of how much we as journalists love what we do and how much it means to us?