Now I know how firemen, police officers and others feel when one of theirs is gunned down in a burst of violence from some deranged individual on a rampage of anger and revenge.
The murders of five journalists at the Annapolis, Md., Capital Gazette newspaper underscored our culture’s new reality.
Journalists across America spend much of their careers writing about other people’s misfortunes. They rarely, if ever, have to cope with someone walking through their newsroom door, spraying death in his wake.
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A good newspaper has a provocative nature. Its mission is not only to report the news fairly and objectively. Its mission also is to seek out and expose corruption in politics and elsewhere, to report on and promote community responsibility and progress, and to befriend the poor and downtrodden.
In carrying out their missions, newspapers sometimes stir enmity. In most cases, that enmity is vented through letters to the editor, telephone calls and canceled subscriptions, rarely by the exercise of violence.
In my long tenure of newspapering, as reporter, columnist and editor, I have felt the sting of criticism from time to time and learned some new cuss words along the way via letters, telephone calls and occasional face to face discussions. But never by the threat or exercise of violence.
Oh, I take that back. A subscriber once called me at home and threatened to come to my house and “beat your a-- before supper” over a news story in which, he said, his mother was misquoted.
”Well, sir,” I said, “ you’re going to have to hurry. We’re just sitting down to eat.”
Somehow my response eased the tension.
”Well,” he said. “I’m still mad as hell, but I will say to your credit that I’ve lived in four other cities, and this is the only place where someone can call a newspaper editor at home and give him hell.”
Ah, yes, those were the good ol’ days, the age of innocence when , as was the case in Annapolis, people could walk into their newspaper’s offices right off the street.
I once was working late in my office when I looked up to see a middle-aged woman sitting in the chair in front of my desk. She had walked in off the street, and taken the elevator to the second floor, which was vacant except for me.
She said she had a problem. She had walked from the bus station, several blocks away, to complain about the price of ham biscuits in Raleigh. It seemed that ham biscuits cost more in Raleigh than in Washington, D.C.
All I could do was sympathize and escort her back to the elevator, cautioning her that she needed to hurry or she would miss the bus to Dunn, which she had said was her destination,
Ideally, that is the way things should be. Newspapers should excel in total accessibility. But the age of violence in which we live no longer allows that luxury.
So, at our newspaper and at some other businesses, there is the guard at the desk. Visitors have to sign in and sign out and state the name of the person to be visited.
President Trump has declared repeatedly that the press is “the enemy of the people.” Nothing could be further from the truth. For the most part, the news media, newspapers in particular, are on very good terms with the public.
Although more and more subscribers read the news online, great numbers of people are still loyal to the print editions.
A subscriber recently told me that he is addicted to his newspaper.
”I start the day with the newspaper,” he said. “And when it’s not on my driveway, or even in a nearby rose bush, somebody is gonna hear from me!”
Although most newspaper subscribers never visit a newsroom, they nevertheless establish relationships with the people behind the bylines.
They become attached to a writer’s style, his or her gifts of expression, attention to detail, and the ability to convey compassion, humor, and, above all, accurate information via their accounts of life and events in our community and in our world.
So, newspaper journalists across the land mourn the untimely deaths of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters: five of ours lost to the age of violence in which we are living.