An Echo Press Editorial: After shooting, the news goes on
When news broke last week that a shooter opened fire in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five people, the shock waves rippled through our office as well.
In the space of a few minutes, the shooter — who reportedly targeted the newspaper because it wrote a story about him after he was convicted of harassing a former classmate in 2011 — ended the lives of two editors, a sports reporter, a community beat reporter and a sales assistant. The victims, of course, led lives that were more meaningful than job titles. Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters leave behind family members and loved ones who knew them in deeper ways. They will be grieving their loss for the rest of their lives.
The shooting marked the deadliest day for U.S. journalists since the 9-11 attacks.
Here in our office, we could only imagine the horrifying moments that took place during the rampage and the troubling question that arises whenever a shooting claims innocent lives — why? How could someone get so riled up about something — in this case, words on a page — that it drives them to such extreme violence?
With so much negativity swirling around the media these days, we also wondered what the reaction would be. Would the anti-media fervor that has gripped so many people cause a callous, "good riddance" attitude? For the most part, no, although the Gazette unbelievably received a few death threats and emails celebrating the shooting.
President Donald Trump, who has lambasted the media as "the enemy of the people" and for creating "fake news" took the high road in a statement following the shooting: "This attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief. Journalists like all Americans should be free of the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs."
Some of our readers reached out to us with kind words. An email we received last Friday morning wished our staff peace and comfort over the weekend. "Know that so many value what you do as professionals and that your service is a vital part of the Alexandria community. It must feel a little like family or friends were attacked yesterday and that must hurt."
Newspapers throughout the country are showing, in their own ways, support and sympathy for the Capital Gazette. The Gazette staff, by the way, showed its tenacity by vowing, just after the shooting, that they would be "putting out a damn paper tomorrow" and they did.
If a glimmer of positivity could come out of this tragedy, it's this: Maybe people will better understand that "the media" isn't some faceless, insensitive, agenda-driven conspirator, that there are actual, real people filing the stories — editors, reporters and entire newspaper staffs that are trying to do the best job they can in a world filled with violence and uncertainty.
After the shooting, Gazette Community News Editor Jimmy DeButts noted: "There are no 40-hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community. We keep doing more with less. We find ways to cover high school sports, breaking news, tax hikes, school budgets and local entertainment. We are there in times of tragedy. We do our best to share the stories of people, those who make our community better. Please understand, we do all this to serve our community."
The shooting at the Gazette should serve as a reminder of the dangers that reporters face, day in, day out. Last year, 74 journalists and media workers were killed around the globe. Despite the dangers, the role that credible journalists fill — as watchdogs, storytellers and a voice for the voiceless — must continue. Reporters should not be targets for ridicule, vitriol and violence, which appears to be escalating these days, just because they write something someone doesn't like.
In a statement sent out after the shooting, The News Media Alliance, a trade association representing about 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, noted, "Nobody should ever go to work fearing for their safety. Journalism cannot flourish in a place where reporters' lives are at risk for delivering the news, and a democracy cannot flourish without journalism."