The journalism community is like any other profession. There’s a special camaraderie with those of us in community newspapers, forged by ink and metal plates, because we all live with the same pitfalls — long hours, low pay and lots of backlash. The smaller the market, the more magnified all of those are. Especially the backlash. There’s no insulation when you are part of the community, when everyone has unfettered access to your workplace, as they should.
Every community newspaper in America has a “looney or two” who are regulars coming to or calling the office. We’ve had our share of scares and threats over the years, some more serious than others. We have had to have a Laurel police officer spend nearly an entire shift sitting in our office because a threat had become too serious.
We’ve especially been on edge the last year or so …
Because of the sense of community within our profession, the initial report of the shooting in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., hit home more than most national stories about workplace shootings. But when it was reported that a “Laurel man” who was a longtime disgruntled reader was arrested for killing five employees in the newsroom, including the editor, it ran a cold chill down our spines.
That fact made our natural reaction that “it could happen here” seem even more real. We knew immediately that the shooter was from Laurel, Maryland, as we get calls and/or emails at least once a week from funeral homes trying to place an obituary in the “Laurel Leader,” which is the paper in our sister city, located between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The investigation is in its infancy. From most media reports, the suspect has not been cooperative. Only a power higher than ours knows what went wrong, what malfunctioned in his brain that would push him to pick up a shotgun and kill five people — fathers and sons, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers. It defies our conscience when such events happen. It tears our heart apart and darkens our collective souls just a bit more in an ever-darkening world.
Now the Capital Gazette will be placing obituariess of five people who are all too familiar to them. Our hearts and prayers go out to them. They died where they make their living. That’s something we cannot relate to.
But we can relate to the remaining staff. They vowed to fight on, gathering in a garage to make sure the next day’s edition hit the streets on time. They vowed to continue to cover their community with watchful eyes, no matter how tough, no matter how devastating the losses.
That is what newspapers do. Tragedy hits — whether a shooting, a devastating hurricane or a tornado — and the newspaper must go forth. There is no other option and every last one of those newspapermen and women who were shot and killed in that newsroom Thursday would say the same.
No one ever gets into this business because he or she wants to make a lot of money, or work the good hours or enjoy all of those vacations. No, newspapermen and women do it because it is a calling bordering on an addiction. The calling is to be the mirror on the community and to shine light where the light needs to be shined. Everyone who does this job does it out of love for the business, as those who works at this newspaper do.
And if, God forbid, anything like this happens at this newspaper, as long as one of us remains standing, we will channel the words tweeted out by The Capital Gazette: “Yes, we’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow!”