Sunday, July 01, 2018

"You Put Out a Paper. It's What You Do."

I wrote 'Fuck civility' the other day in the wake of the shootings at The Capital Gazette. Our friend Dave Fairbank has a much more personal perspective on the events of that afternoon. In an email he sent me expanding on his thoughts, he said this," Good journalists are terrified of making mistakes. I can't tell you how many times I woke up in the middle of the night afraid that I'd botched a score or misspelled a name. I'd fire up the laptop and check. I nearly always had it right, and I was miserable if I didn't." Most of the people using the media as red meat to fire up their political base know this to be true, and they choose to inflame regardless. Sad and shitty and stupid, these times of ours.

I've been sad and angry the past couple of days, courtesy of two of my least favorite aspects of present American society: mass shootings and contempt for journalists. Five people were killed at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday afternoon, and it felt a little like family had died.

I was a newspaper reporter for almost 35 years. I grew up south of Annapolis, and the Capital is my hometown paper. I worked at the Capital as a part-time sports writer for a couple of years after college, trying to assemble enough clips and experience to land a full-time newspaper gig.

I knew none of the victims personally, but in 30 years at the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press, I'm certain that I shared press boxes and press rooms with John McNamara, who covered University of Maryland athletics for many years.

I love newspapers. What I love most about newspapers is newspaper people. Yeah, we can be selectively thin-skinned, and we sometimes devote way too much time and ink (pixels?) to ourselves. But most newspaper folks are bright and curious and quirky and committed. We discovered an outlet that allows us to be nosy and informative and occasionally entertaining for a living. Most of us work long hours for crappy pay in a business where they're throwing people overboard like they're auditioning for "Pirates of the Caribbean." And yet we come back every day because we yearn to tell stories and to make a difference in our communities.

That came through as I read about the victims. McNamara was a jack-of-all-trades who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of local sports. He could write, edit and design pages, and was capable of covering most anything. He was described by one reporter as funny and humane and "a thoroughly decent person."

Rob Hiassen, brother of longtime Miami Herald columnist and novelist Carl Hiassen, was a big-hearted, award-winning feature writer who often found peculiar angles and subjects. He then became an editor and was much respected for nurturing young reporters.

Wendi Winters wrote her way onto the staff as an earnest and prolific freelancer. She studied fashion design in college and ran her own boutique in New York City before moving to the Annapolis area 20 years ago. She immediately started writing for the Capital, where she became invaluable.

Rebecca Smith was a sales assistant and a relatively recent hire at the paper, praised for her efficiency, heart and humor.

Editorial page writer Gerald Fischman was described as the conscience of the paper and the community for more than two decades. He was a quiet, exceptionally learned fellow who often communicated with colleagues via post-it notes and met his wife, a Mongolian opera singer, online.
So damn sad. I feel a twinge when any journalist is killed. But these weren't journalists in a war zone or some banana republic. They were in Annapolis, for Christ's sake. They were in a newsroom doing their jobs when a troubled asshole with a vendetta against the paper shattered their world.

The hell of it is, the alleged shooter had no gripe with any of his victims. His beef with the paper goes back to a 2011 column that called him out for stalking and harassing a former high school classmate, a woman. He sued the paper, unsuccessfully. Neither the columnist nor the publisher, who he frequently blasted by name on social media, is at the paper any longer. The publisher is retired and lives in Naples, Fla. The columnist now works at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Certainly, the alleged shooter knew that, since he told a judge during one hearing that his legal actions against the paper had become his life. Still, it didn't dissuade him. He reportedly armed up, went to the newspaper offices Thursday afternoon and barricaded the rear exit door to prevent escape. He then went around to the front, blasted the glass doors and walked through the newsroom, shooting and reloading his shotgun. Fortunately, police arrived within a minute of the first 911 call and were in the building within two minutes, or the death toll likely would have been much greater.

That's where the anger comes in. Another day, another mass shooting in America. Thoughts and prayers. Too soon to talk about possible fixes. Fades away. Until the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The fact that the alleged shooter had a specific grudge against the paper supposedly meant that the act wasn't politically motivated. He wasn't some patriot targeting the lib'rul media.

Maybe not. But you don't think that a president who routinely bashes the press might implicitly validate reaching for a Glock in an increasingly divided country with 300 million guns and ready access to firearms? He said Friday that journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being attacked while doing their jobs. Sorry, Chuckles, you don't spend years calling the press "enemies of the people" and using them as stage props at your rallies and then get a pass for a few comforting words in the wake of a massacre.

Bashing the press pisses me off, as well. Sure, there are reporters and outlets with agendas. But most journalists are grinding in the trenches, doing their damnedest to get it right. They could barely organize a decent softball game, never mind operate within vast media conspiracies.

Heartbreaking as it was to see Thursday unfold, I was proud of the Capital staffers' response. Shaken to their cores, they still got back to work. It's something I've seen and experienced at newspapers all over the country. Floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, mass shootings, unfathomable tragedies. Doesn't matter. You put out a paper. It's what you do.

19 comments:

rob said...

putin, man

rob said...

i’m now a tattooed hipster dad, at least according to my kids. post with pics to come.

Mark said...

Well said, Dave.

Rob got a tattoo today, folks.

Dave Fairbank said...

Atta boy, Rob. Just hoping it's not some Japanese symbol that was supposed to translate as "wisdom" but actually means "meatloaf."

zman said...

We need more Fairbank around here.

For those of you scoring at home, zmom is up and about with a walker. She won't hike the Appalachian Trail any time soon and uses a wheelchair primarily, but it's good to see her progressing. July will be better than June.

rob said...

i went with #maga in big red letters.

and that's excellent news, zed.

rob said...

that's a heck of a day of soccer

Mark said...

Indeed it was. Two exciting penalty shootouts. Which is not what I’m used too.

Dave said...

i was rooting against russia because they kill journalists over there. awful stuff over here as well. good post dave. nothing is more important than those people grinding away to make our civilization as transparent as possible.

rob said...

guess i’m finally rooting against lebron

TR said...

That means Kawhi is coming. I bet the Spurs get a massive haul for him.

Mark said...

They better. Losing. Top 5 player in his prime is not something most franchises recover from quickly.

zman said...

Packed moved and unpacked zgrams from one old folks home to another. AccuWeather says the real feel here is 104. Thanks to Nike DriFit it only feels like 101!

rob said...

oh my god i hope you saw the belgium/japan finish

TR said...

That break-out goal by Belgium to win it in stoppage time was so awesome. Seeing a world-class striker like Lukaku have the confidence/humility to dummy it for his teammate was fantastic.

Mark said...

From start to finish, that was beautiful. The leading roll out, the spacing on the counter. The pass, dummy and finish. World class.

And Jesus that’s gutting for Japan.

Danimal said...

saw 0.0 minutes. my belgian coworker just returned to the office though after spending the afternoon at the irish pub next door. he's pleased.

zman said...

Two more bids on Mike's PND in the overnight. It appears to be a popular lot in distant time zones.

Marls said...

I hope you set the reserve at 169k.