Journalists under fire
When people think of journalists in the United States, they typically think about the high-profile columnists and broadcasters, the Anderson Coopers and the Thomas Friedmans of the world.
The tragic deaths of five journalists in Annapolis, Maryland turned the spotlight on the less glamorous, but in many cases more noble side of American journalism.
Many of many journalist friends were among those who quickly shared news of the deadly shooting of the Capital Gazettejournalists. One of my friends worked with one of the victims at another newspaper in Florida many years ago. Other friends who shared the news were, like me, veterans of the U.S. newspaper industry.
“Heartbroken,” a former colleague at the San Francisco Chroniclewrote.
I didn’t know any of the victims of the Capital Gazette shooting. But I knew people like them. I left the newspaper business a decade ago, after 14 meaningful and engaging years. But I still feel an affinity with reporters, editors, artists and photographers in what I still believe is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling professions in the world.
Working for a newspaper doesn’t pay much, and can at times be stressful and exhausting. But it’s a fun job, and my work occasionally made a difference to your community, and made one feel useful to the world. I had a role in the community. People used to reach out to me with tips, leads and insights. Sometimes, they complained that I wasn’t doing enough to tell other important stories.
I was part of a community that expected me to perform an important role, that of storyteller and even watchdog. While I got to cover big stories, like Philippine politics and the transformation of Silicon Valley, I also spent a lot of time writing about local issues involving school districts, cities and counties, and even specific neighborhoods.
Many of the issues or disputes I covered weren’t particularly exciting to most people in the San Francisco Bay Area or California, but they were to the people of those communities I covered.
The Capital Gazette journalists were killed by a man who bore a grudge against the newspaper. It’s not surprising that many journalists also blame Donald Trump for creating an atmosphere in which journalists are portrayed as the “enemy of the people,” as he himself has done, and made vulnerable to violent attacks.
Filipinos would be familiar to this dangerous rhetoric since Rodrigo Duterte has used even worse language when he said: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
We live in a time of arrogant leaders given to dangerously crude language. What makes the Capital Gazette tragedy even harder to bear is that the paper is part of an industry that continues to struggle for survival.
“The decline of local newspapers is often lamented—and even more so this morning—but lamented in a particular way, as if their main role has been as municipal watchdogs, and, without them, corruption and the simple aggression of the powerful will now go unchecked,” Benjamin Wallace-Wellswrote in the New Yorker.
“The role of these publications was broader than that, and the loss is far deeper. We were an outlet through which ordinary people could explain themselves to strangers, without requiring the political side-taking of talk radio or the tribal insularity of the Internet.”
How the staff of the Capital Gazette responded the killings underscored the commitment of many newspaper journalists across the U.S. to the thankless, but important role they play in communities across the country.
Shortly after the tragedy, one of the Gazette’s reporters, Chase Cook, posted on Twitter: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”
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