So you heard that four journalists and a sales associate were gunned down on Thursday at The Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
A man armed with a shotgun stormed an office building and opened fire into the paper’s newsroom in the middle of the afternoon, sending people running in fear, diving under their desks and praying for their lives.
The man who’s accused of this horrible crime had a vendetta against the paper for printing a story about him years earlier. He wrote about his rage against the paper and the reporter who wrote the story on social media quite frequently leading up to the attack.
As a result of his anger and hatred, five people who got up to go to work to do their jobs — just like you do — are dead. Their families, friends and colleagues (their second families) are now left with a huge void.
It’s senseless. It’s sad. And it’s an attack on the free press — yes I said free, please reread your Constitution. The section listed as “First Amendment.”
But it’s not the only attack, as you well know. As a journalist, I’ve been labeled an “enemy” of the people. I’m accused of producing “fake news.” So says the leader of the free world, who regularly uses his platform to discredit, malign and vilify journalists. And the message, unfortunately, reaches vast numbers of people who agree and emulate this behavior.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had defending my job and profession with people — even family members — who I thought I knew well, only to be scolded, ridiculed and criticized about how I / we “slant the news,” “hide or alter the facts,” “make things up.”
As a professional, I grumble mostly to myself, sometimes to my close friends and family and shrug it off.
I am just one of the hundreds of thousands of journalists who gets up every day to work every imaginable shift under the sun and the moon. Sometimes three different shifts within the same week. On most holidays. In every form of weather you can imagine. Just to produce news, to bring you the truth. To hold the powerful accountable. To relay information that matters to you.
Journalists are not your enemies. We are your sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, moms and dads, friends and neighbors. We, too, are the people. We work at tiny weekly newspapers, big city dailies, rinky-dink radio stations, local TV affiliates, major networks. No matter what our venue, our work is important and you rely on us — whether you realize it or not.
Just for a minute: imagine only one day with a complete news blackout. What would you do?
When big news breaks — such as a terrorist attack, mass shooting, natural disaster, chemical attack or plane crash — we witness and report about things we should never have to see. Ever gotten to the scene of a “floater” recovery? The stench. The visual of a bloated corpse being carefully lifted out of a river so as to keep the limbs attached? Or how about a horrific accident where babies are thrown through windshields?
We often become so engrossed in producing, reporting and distributing the product — getting it out to you — that we have little time to process the horrific events we cover on a daily basis — until we’re driving home. Usually alone. Trying to get to sleep at night. Endeavoring to carry on like everyone else. Some become desensitized.
I remember 9-11. I was a new news director (just three months on the job). When we weren’t in network coverage, we blanketed our market, localizing the story. From the time the attacks happened until days later, continuous coverage. On that first night I got home at 3am, sat down and watched Dan Rather for the first time all day and took in enormity of the attack. Then I lost it. All alone.
Journalists are nomads, picking up and moving to wherever the story or job takes us. Many of us don’t sleep well. Don’t play well (we’re always checking in to see what’s going on, even while on vacation). Don’t eat well. Don’t have great personal relationships because our job takes us away. Calls us in at a moment’s notice. News doesn’t take holidays. News doesn’t care if your Easter dinner (in the old days because nothing was open on holidays) is Cheetos and Mountain Dew. News doesn’t care if you really wanted to attend an event or participate in a class or join a regularly scheduled sports team or club activity.
Our best friends are often our colleagues because they “get” us. We share the good times and the bad and too many holidays. We eat too many donuts. A LOT of “election night” pizza. We slam down our lunches at our desks while we write or edit or in the live truck as we’re heading to whatever news story is breaking.
Many (myself included) have attention spans that come in increments of :30 seconds, 1-minute and 1:30. We live and die by deadlines and slam against them all the time.
We understand all of this. And we do it because we love it. We love to dig for the truth, find the stories, tell them. To witness and record history. It’s not for the fame. It’s not for the money. Some still earn crappy salaries. I started at The Saginaw News as a young — still in high school — editorial assistant answering phones, writing wedding and engagement announcements and the occasional feature story for minimum wage. I was on Cloud 9. I moved over to a local radio station for $100 a week covering city council, school board and county commission meetings. I graduated to $12,000 a year — well below the poverty line — for the “glamorous” world of local TV News. Worked my way up to the network level. Why? Because it’s in my blood. I knew it way back in the fourth grade when a poem I wrote was actually PUBLISHED in The Flint Journal.
We grieve for our heartbroken colleagues at The Capital Gazette. And the journalists who are determined to carry on, despite the horrific loss of their friends and co-workers. We pray for our co-workers’ safe return when they’re sent into dangerous situations. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.
We persist because the truth matters. Journalism matters. This is our mission. This is our passion. And we will not be silenced, will not be stopped.