I’m thinking a lot about the family, friends and colleagues of the five journalists who were slain in Annapolis yesterday. Their murders are shocking and heartbreaking to journalists everywhere.
All the reporters who work to cover their communities are also on my mind today. The Capital Gazette could have been any newsroom in the country.
Most journalists, at one point or another, have dealt with enraged readers who threaten to sue them for reporting on public information contained in police reports, court documents, government emails and public meetings.
They’ve been called names, screamed at, threatened and harassed via phone calls, emails, social media and anonymous comments on news websites. Over the past two years, this behavior has increased exponentially as it has been sanctioned by certain political figures who not only bully the press, but also encourage others to do so.
Being a local reporter has never been a glamorous job, contrary to most portrayals of journalists in the movies. In addition to the hate mail, the job involves long hours, endless meetings, weekend work, few vacations, and low pay. The stress can strain relationships
The trade-off is waking up every day believing that reporting matters. The best journalism promotes public accountability of the powerful and encourages a well-informed citizenry. The best journalists seek to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. At the local level, journalists also help build community.
Without courageous reporters, editors, publishers, and an investment in news at all levels by the public, democracy will fail as facts are subverted by the powerful and citizens are manipulated.
In these difficult times for the news business, journalists who still believe in their mission continue to toil away, attending zoning board meetings, filing public records requests, and sifting through hundreds of pages of court documents to keep readers informed. They also manage to cover the community festivals, concerts, graduations and the nonprofit fundraisers that are an important part of the fabric of their communities.
Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith were dedicated to the journalist’s mission. They were in the newsroom working to support that mission when a man with a grudge and a gun shot and killed them.
Grieving Capital Gazette journalists then covered the massacre of their own newsroom and managed to put out a Friday edition of the paper. They knew they had to do it. Not doing so would have meant letting violence and threats win.
On Friday, the leaders of the newspaper vowed to honor their colleagues’ memories by continuing their mission to deliver news to the community. It’s a mission we should all embrace across the country if we want to see our democracy survive and thrive.