FRIDAY’S OPINION page in the Capital Gazette consisted of only 56 words, centered around five names. It was a spare and eloquent — and heartbreaking — tribute to those lost in the tragedy that had befallen this storied newspaper the day before, and to the kind of journalism the newspaper embodies.
The five names were those of the dedicated professionals who came to the Capital’s newsroom Thursday for the last time, their lives ended by a man police say had waged a long-running vendetta against the newspaper. The attacker fired buckshot through the Capital’s glass doors, shattering lives in the most horrific assault on journalists in the United States in decades. If there is anything to be thankful for in this carnage, it is that the shooter did not have a gun with a high-capacity magazine that would have enabled him to murder many more.
The victims offered a cross-section of what makes a good local newspaper tick. Wendi Winters personified the local journalist, highlighting the good deeds of area teenagers, covering arts and culture in Anne Arundel County and showing up at local parades. Gerald Fischman was the mild-mannered yet passionate editorial page editor who sought the good argument rather than the easy one. Rob Hiaasen wrote offbeat reflections on life, drawing from decades in newspapering. John McNamara was the old-school veteran reporter who tutored younger generations in good journalism’s timeless skills. And Rebecca Smith, a sales associate, helped keep the paper running so that the community would have its news.
These men and women are the face of American newspapering, because community papers are where so much original journalism happens. As Post media columnist Erik Wemple noted, there are only 600 journalists in the White House Correspondents’ Association but 32,000 editorial jobs at newspapers across the country. The thousands get little credit, less glamour and generally paltry salaries as they cover football games, city council meetings and restaurant openings. But they do essential work.
Friday in Annapolis, like every other day in Maryland’s capital, began with a fresh issue of the Capital circulating around town. Along with several pages on the shooting, it included an article on the induction of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2022, a feature on the Meade boys basketball team’s longtime coach and a guide to Anne Arundel County’s Fourth of July festivities. The commitment to informing the public leaves no time for grief; when tragedy strikes, journalists stare it down and report what they see.
Murdering people for doing this valuable job is particularly despicable. And it came at a time when the president routinely vilifies reporters for doing their jobs. In the past, the country’s leaders honored in word and deed the media’s crucial role in American society.
The final words of the Capital’s Friday editorial aptly explain why the latter stance is more appropriate: “Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”