The news alerts flooded our email and social media feeds when an active shooter was reported Thursday at an office building in Maryland. We clicked on links and scanned wire feeds, as we always do when news breaks, looking for details.
Then the details came: Five dead. Capital Gazette newsroom in Anapolis. Reporters tweeting from under their desks. Suspect in custody.
Journalists across the country steeled themselves and started the coverage of another mass shooting. Journalists at the Capital Gazette and their colleagues at their sister paper, the Baltimore Sun, led the way.
“We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” tweeted Chase Cook, a Gazette reporter. And from a mall parking lot across from their newsroom, they did.
We cheered them when we read that. Our hearts ached, but we cheered the spirit of local news journalists that we know can’t be broken by threats, gunfire, political damning, or courtroom attempts to silence. We posted links on our personal Facebook pages. We gave each other virtual hugs because we all were working in our own newsrooms to keep our own communities informed.
The people in that newsroom – those who were slain and those who survived – are our colleagues. Sure, we’d never met them. But we instantly knew something about them.
That they work long, irregular hours for low pay. That they care about the community in which they work. That they try every single day to tell the stories of their community – the good, the bad, the seemingly mundane (but dreadfully important) stories.
And now, four of them and one of their co-workers in advertising are dead, and two others are injured. Because a man didn’t like what they wrote about him (it was true).
We know that journalists are not always well loved. We like to think we’re respected, that people think the job we do is important, but sometimes – especially with the near-constant attacks on the media and the drum beat of “fake news” in our ears – we doubt that. But we go to work anyway.
There aren’t many reporters, if any, who haven’t been singled out at a public meeting for ridicule – either against them, a story they or their news organization has written or because of where they work. It never seems to matter if what was written was true – somebody didn’t like it. If you stay in the business for long, you grow accustomed to being hung up on, having doors slammed in your face and sometimes even things thrown at you.
Threats are common: “You’d better watch your back. I know where you live. Don’t walk out the door alone.” Sometimes, you have violence wished upon you – rape, murder, death to your family. Sometimes, the threats rise to a level where we report them to the police.
Still, on Friday, journalists across the country went to work and the Capital Gazette staff published a paper. It contained stories on the slain journalists and on its own history – it is one of the oldest papers in the country.
“Tomorrow,” the paper’s editorial board wrote, “this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”
Along with regular coverage of the good, the bad and the mundane (but dreadfully important) news.
Because that is what journalists do.