It’s unfortunate that I write these words, but crime is a fact of life.
And, in our modern world, it seems that mass shootings are happening so often in our country now that it’s too easy to become jaded when we hear news of yet another killing spree. I think, perhaps, I’m not jaded but simply numbed by the events of last week. I should be more alive and on edge because this shooting was extraordinarily different. This shooting hit home.
Specifically, I’m talking about the June 28 shooting at The Capital Gazette, the daily newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Published reports tell us a man who reportedly had a grudge against the paper shot his way into the newsroom that Thursday afternoon. He killed four journalists, a sales assistant and injured two others.
No. 1, it escapes me how someone can lose all ability to think clearly and allow anger to grab hold of their psyche to a point of complete self-destruction, much less kill someone. No. 2, journalists are strong, dedicated people and we will not be shaken.
Here, in my office, I’ve had to tell other men that I will not be intimidated and I’m sorry your son was arrested all the while explaining that it’s our jobs to report the truth – both conversations my colleagues could hear with the door closed. Sometimes, however, that truth, or at least that version of it, may not be a tasty elixir to swallow by the time it hits the page.
Covering crime is a daunting task. I will never forget the first time I heard a judge sentence a person to Death Row. As he uttered the phrase, “May God have mercy on your soul,” my spine tingled and an unexplained heat rolled across my body.
I once endured the reading of a victim’s impact statement by a father whose wife and three children were killed in a head-on collision by a drunk driver. I then sat and watched that same driver receive only a 10-year sentence for taking four lives. It’s difficult to keep telling these stories and seeing these verdicts without wondering if the entire system is not broken.
Every journalist in America felt the June 28 shooting at some level. If nothing else, it should have publishers and news directors scratching their heads and asking if their organization has enough security in place to possibly curtail something like this from happening at their news organization.
What that shooter didn’t know is that, while he may think he got his revenge, he cannot stop an entire industry of men and women who believe in the never-ending quest for truth. Without journalism, companies and governments and those in power will simply continue to seek more power, conduct more and more business in darkness and do as they wish without the public knowing how its taxes are spent or if their water is toxic.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, at least 39 journalists had been killed in the United States before the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom with less than 10 killed during the September 11 attacks. Many slain journalists were targeted because of their investigative journalism reporting. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that eight U.S. journalists have been killed by crossfire or murder between 1992 and 2018.
Nobody ever goes into the field of journalism for the money. We sit in on hour upon hour of boring government meetings, we attend ribbon cuttings and other public functions and we simply keep smiling through it all. We go into this field because we know we are part of something larger than us.
We will not be shaken.