A set of glass panels hang in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. etched with the names of 2,323 journalists killed around the world while doing their jobs, some in accident of war, some deliberately target, like the five Capital Gazette reporters slaughtered last week for no more reason than they were doing their jobs.
The five were in their newspaper’s office, working, and a man unhappy with having his name in the paper blocked the back door, then went around front, entered, and started shooting.
I started this journalism gig nearly a half century ago, in radio. For some reason, most radio stations were kept locked. Newspaper offices, not so much. Maybe that was because radio was more immediate; one could be angry with a radio disk jockey or newscaster for saying something he had just said, rather than something he had written last night.
I was in the Navy, stationed in California at the time, and that was about the time I became aware of California Highway Patrol putting two officers in each car at night because there had been instances of a simple traffic stop resulting in a shot-to-death patrolman. I don’t know that was a coincidence; I just mention it.
For several years, I wrote an outdoor column, much like I write now, and for a time I hosted a country music radio show.
Eventually, I retired from the Navy and got into newspaper reporting. I became experienced with angering politicians and a few people with guns. Police become a little testy when their name appears accused of some wrong-doing. And politicians, especially on a local or county level, sometimes object when they are quoted saying something they wish they hadn’t. It wasn’t because I enjoyed angering them, but it happens sometimes
I have written numerous stories about people who were convicted of illegal activities, some of them violent, I’ve received telephone calls and letters expressing displeasure at my having named some miscreant in a story, and I have fielded some calls asking to leave a name out of a story (a reporter who does that loses all credibility) – but I’ve never actually been attacked. Lucky, I guess.
Shortly after the Capital Gazette shooting, a friend and colleague Facebooked me to say she had met Carl Hiaasen, brother of Rob Hiaasen, one of the five killed in the rampage. A few days later, I learned another colleague, closer to home, knew all five. Her husband is a photojournalists at that paper; he escaped the shooting.
Sleep has been a bit hard the past few days. When you hear of such events, and can put names and faces on them, they pull a little harder.
I hate the idea that young reporters with talent for the craft might become afraid to do it. Someone asked me whether I thought there should be more guards and barriers at the local paper. I said, “No.” I don’t want the reporters to have to make their way through such graphic and fear-engendering reminders of the risk involved in doing their jobs. If we do that – if we turn our newspaper offices into prisons, we already have lost.
Thing is, the press is not some monolith out there away from the rest of us. The only difference between “the press” and “the public” is latter cannot attend all the meetings, so they send the press. We all are part of a much larger family. When someone does what Jarrod Ramos did, we all lose more than just those five lives.
“Therefore, send not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”