Commentary: I went to work as the sports editor of the La Junta (Colorado) Tribune-Democrat in 1982 and have considered myself a community journalist ever since.
As I read about my fellow community journalists who were killed in the mass shooting Thursday at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, I saw a little of myself in them.
John McNamara, 56, had worked in sports for most of his career before recently taking a job as an editor and reporter. Gerald Fischman, 61, was the opinion writer with an off sense for style. Rob Hiaasen, 59, had a column that ran every Sunday where he offered observations on everything from politics to music.
The killer shot his way through two glass doors, similar, I assume, to the two glass doors leading into the Sun-News office. Once inside, he found an unguarded newsroom, just like every newsroom I’ve ever worked in.
The killer was motivated by the same kind of local crime story that community newspapers across the country write every day. In this case, it was a story about the dangers of social media. It highlighted the conviction of a local man who was repeatedly harassing a former high school classmate via Facebook.
First that man tried to sue the newspaper. When that didn’t work, he launched a threatening, profane wave of invective against the newspaper online. Newspaper officials were concerned, but decided not to press charges. Threats come with the territory.
And then he followed through on those threats.
This was, I believe, the billionth mass shooting this month. Typically the debate would now turn to mental health, video games, lax parenting, missed signs, hardened buildings and, of course, guns. Debating gun violence without mentioning guns is akin to debating obesity without mentioning food.
But this week, I’d like to talk about community journalism instead.
The Capital Gazzette had the story on the front page of its paper the next day. Of course they did. The newspaper is published every day, no matter what. Floods, hurricanes or fires, such as the one that destroyed our building in 2011, do not stop the next day’s publication. Ever. It’s something we all take pride in.
The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 1,306 journalists who have been killed worldwide since 1992, mostly in war-torn sites like Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Latin American countries ravaged by gang violence. Courageous reporters risk their lives every day delivering the news from nations where the ruling government doesn’t want that news to get out.
Journalists in the United States enjoy protections that our colleagues in other nations do not. But still, there is always some risk to reporting news that someone doesn’t want to get out.
There were a lot of comments after the shooting about how vital the Gazzette is to Annapolis. One of the oldest newspapers in the nation, it has remained relevant by focusing on local news and events.
Last week, their local news story became our national news. And, those of us who do this for a living were reminded of how vulnerable we are. But, the presses are still rolling every day.