What you should know about journalists in the wake of the Annapolis shooting
On Thursday, a deranged gunman killed five Maryland journalists who were just doing their jobs.
I wish I could say I was shocked to read this, but I wasn’t. The level of vitriol against “the media” has risen over time, reaching fever pitch in recent years.
As a young, naive, ambitious kid 18 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be a newspaper journalist. I’m still glad I made that decision.
Many people ask me why I got into this business. The short answer: I wanted to help people. I liked how good it felt to see my name or picture in the paper for an academic or athletic achievement, and I wanted to help other people feel good, too. Like most people, I grew up in a household where it was sometimes a struggle to make ends meet. Because of that, I wanted to let other people know where/how their tax dollars were being spent, if their utility bills were going up, and why.
But, as this cub reporter quickly learned, news isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. You have to cover the bad with the good. Sometimes, information that the public needs to know is going to upset some folks who don’t want the public to know it. Sometimes, you have to report on unthinkable tragedies. Sometimes, you have to cover sensitive subjects, and you have to make careful decisions on what information should and should not be published. Sometimes, there’s no clear right or wrong answer. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut and hope for the best.
Like many journalists, I have been targeted because of things I wrote (or things my reporters wrote) — but nothing to the extent of what happened in Annapolis on Thursday.
Over the years, I have covered my share of hard news on controversial issues that won awards and were picked up by national news outlets. I assume those papers and awards are tucked away in a box somewhere.
When it came time to choose a newspaper to be framed and hanged in my office, I picked something different. I went with a front page commemorating the Monett (Mo.) High School football team’s 2016 state championship win.
That edition didn’t win any Pulitzers. The Washington Post didn’t pick up our story. Our coverage didn’t save the world. But, for the young men on that team and the 9,000 people who live in that small town, it was a huge deal — a major source of community pride. That edition sold out in about an hour. Monettans went from rack to rack, trying to find an elusive copy. I had to order a second press run.
Print is dead, my foot.
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many journalists, and have gotten to know many others. Some work at small-town weeklies, some work at major metropolitan dailies. Some have conservative political leanings, others are more liberal. Some have grumpy dispositions, others are contagiously cheerful.
But, they all have one thing in common: I have yet to meet a journalist who doesn’t have a heart of gold. I have spent the better part of two decades looking for this mythical “evil media” type I keep hearing about, but I have yet to find one.
Journalists aren’t in it for the money. They feel that it is a calling, a community service. I am lucky enough to earn a comfortable living in this industry, but it took several years of ramen noodles and a nonexistent social life to get to this point. Many never do.
Nonetheless, they show up to work each day and sit through boring public meetings because of a sense of duty to keep citizens informed on things that matter to them, both large and small.
Journalists are an independent and strong-willed bunch. Anyone who believes in media conspiracies has never spent much time in a newsroom. We can barely agree on the proper use of punctuation, or what type of food should be served on Election Night, much less complex societal issues.
Despite the tragedy that occurred on Thursday, the staff of the Annapolis Capital Gazette got their newspaper out on Friday morning. They will fight through their tears and grief and keep reporting the news, day after day, because that’s what professionals do.
The first newspaper was published in 1680. I am willing to bet that the first complaint about a newspaper took place the same day. Griping about the paper is a bit of a national pastime. It certainly was in my household growing up.
But one thing that should never be forgotten is that journalists do their best to look out for the interests of the public. We’re not always perfect, but we’re not the enemy.
Some of you reading this may have been upset with The Lawton Constitution at some point. You probably will be again. But our promise to you is that we will always make our decisions based on what we think is best for the people of Lawton and southwest Oklahoma.
Hug those close to you today and tell them you love them. Tomorrow isn’t promised.
If you are the praying type, please pray for the five families who lost loved ones in Thursday’s senseless act of violence. While you’re at it, please pray that we, as a society, can return to a sense of decency and civility.
Jacob Brower is the editor in chief of The Lawton Constitution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.