Sad day for the free press

Today is a sad day to be a journalist.

And today, especially, is a sad day to be a journalist at a community newspaper.

Today, we are reminded that, in doing our due diligence as reporters and editors and upholding all Americans’ First Amendment right to a free press, we put ourselves at grave risk.

Our hearts break for the five local newspaper staff members who lost their lives in the Capital-Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday afternoon.

To them, it was a normal work day.

Their newspaper is not unlike our own.

It has an open newsroom where community members drop in to deliver news, messages and say hello and where staff cover local government, school boards, high school sports, zoning issues, courts and community events.

The disturbing trend of mass shootings by a lone gunman in the United States is universally tragic.

But today, as we mourn the members of the Capital staff who were killed, it feels especially sickening.

Because these people who work at the Capital Gazette continued to do their jobs as this tragedy unfolded.

Selene San Felice used the phone of Anthony Messenger, the summer intern, to break the news of the shooting over Twitter as they hid under a desk.

Phil Davis, courts and crime reporter, tweeted updates after getting to safety.

An article about the shooting was published on the Capital’s website not 20 minutes after it happened.

Capital photojournalist Joshua McKerrow, who had been out of the office during the shooting, documented the scene as he arrived.

And that evening, reporter Chase Cook tweeted, “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, an Annapolis, Md., man, had filed lawsuits — all of which he lost — against the paper, alleging a 2011 column defamed him. The column discussed Ramos’ guilty plea to criminal harassment of a woman over social media.

Just two days before the shooting, right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopolous told a reporter over text that he couldn’t wait for “vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight.”

Our president, Donald Trump, has lodged countless attacks against the media and individual reporters, claiming news that undermines his comments or policies is “fake news.”

At a 2017 rally, he called journalists “sick people” and questioned their patriotism. He has even gone so far as saying “news media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.”

We are here to tell you we are not your enemy. We have never been your enemy, dear reader.

We are, however, the enemy of disinformation. We are the enemy of ignorance and apathy.

The newspaper exists as a service to the community to report issues that affect us all. Advertising dollars are invested in community journalism.

Whether it is helping non-profits spread their message and assistance throughout the region, diving deep on challenging and controversial local issues or just plain wishing your grandmother a happy birthday, newspapers are a community asset in a world which has increasingly abandoned the idea that a sense of community is important.

This shooting, as well as the others which have preceded it and those which will doubtless follow it, is a symptom of our society’s inability to sit down with respect and talk to one another, despite-or specifically because of our differences.

We all must embrace our neighbor, or this tragedy will repeat itself.

In a world that is desperate to divide us, stand together. In a world where fear seeks to tear us down, stand tall.

Threatened by those who claim defamation, reviled by the current government and taunted by talking heads who are content to live in a shell of lies, journalists soldier on, doing the job that must be done to maintain a free and fair society.

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