A dangerous sentiment
BY CONRAD BASCOM
LAKE MILLS GRAPHIC
On Thursday, June 28, a gunman harboring a personal vendetta barricaded the back entrance of Annapolis’ local newspaper, strode through the front doors, and opened fire on the newsroom with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and flash grenades, killing five of The Capital-Gazette’s employees and wounding two more. Four veteran journalists and a young sales associate, snuffed out in the span of a minute. According to reports, that was the amount of time it took police to respond to the violence—five dead in 60 seconds. A response time that Gov. Larry Hogan praised as “incredible”—I dare say that he’s missing the point. No shots were exchanged once first responders entered the newsroom. Jarrod W. Ramos had discarded his weapon and was hiding underneath a journalist’s desk when police apprehended him.
The shooting in Maryland, by all appearances, is the deadliest attack against journalists in the United States in decades. As I write this, I’m listening to a segment from NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Mary Louise Kelly is interviewing Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, about our history of violence against journalists—according to Kelly; only seven journalists had been killed in the US since 1992. Until yesterday—that is—when nearly as many were killed in the span of 60 seconds.
Violence against journalists, the suppression of free speech, a state-controlled media— for the entirety of my life, these social ills have seemed like the hard realities of distant locales; the sorts of tragedies that are given the obligatory paragraph-long blurb 12 pages into an issue of The Wall Street Journal. Sadly, violence against journalists is a far-too-common phenomena for our neighbors to the South. In the month of May, at least two journalists were murdered in Mexico: crime reporter Héctor González Antonio was beaten to death in Tamaulipas and television journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was killed in Tabasco during a targeted hit (which it appears the cartel organized to commemorate the killing of another journalist one year prior). Meanwhile in South America, the bodies of three Ecuadorean journalists were recently discovered in the Colombian jungle. On Thursday, the anti-media sentiment that has become commonplace in our country took a violent turn.
The Capital-Gazette is a historic newspaper, often espoused as one of the oldest publishers in the country—you can trace its lineage all the way back to The Maryland Gazette, first published in 1727. On Sept. 11, 2001—the date of the last mass killing of American journalists—The Capital-Gazette would have been 274 years old. The day after that historic and deadly attack on American soil, The Capital-Gazette’s newsroom was in a state of manic activity as the staff raced to cover the tragedy. Phone lines rang incessantly. Pencils snapped. Copy was shredded in a moment of hysteria. The reporters, most likely fueled only by a small ocean of diluted workplace coffee and the rare cat nap at their desks, stayed up the whole night, spurring their exhausted bodies to the limit so that the people of Annapolis could slowly return to normalcy—and slowly begin to contend with the reality of an America in which terrorists might send commercial airliners careening out of the sky and into our lives at any moment.
On Sept. 12, 2001, The Capital-Gazette (then known only as The Capital) led with an Associated Press piece headlined “Aftershock.” On the right side of the front page, an inset listed off all of The Capital-Gazette’s coverage related to 9/11: “Passengers on hijacked plane vowed to take action (A3);” “Churches schedule special services (A5);” “Emergency numbers listed (A5);” “Pictures tell the horrific story (A6);” “Amid devastation, workers return (A7);” “Local businesses feel the impact (A11);” “Travel grinds to a halt (A12);” “Locals turn out to donate blood (A12);” “Queen Anne’s closes schools, airport (B6);” “Sports world on hold (C1);” “Navy game on Saturday unlikely (C1);” “Annapolis election goes on despite attacks (D1).” If you lived in the United States during that time, you know that it almost felt like the world was ending in the days following the attacks. If you had lived in Annapolis, Maryland in 2001, you would have been heartened and encouraged to see issues of your local paper lying folded in newsstands and in gas stations, its presence a gentle reminder that life continues, that hope can be rebuilt from the rubble. The staff of The Capital-Gazette refused to allow the terror and uncertainty of the new millennium to prevent them from providing their community with its essential service.
On June 28, 2018, the staff of The Capital-Gazette once again responded to senseless and incomprehensible tragedy by doing their jobs. The survivors of The Capital-Gazette shooting dusted themselves off and returned to work, covering the violent atrocity that had embroiled and forever altered their lives hours before. They composed obituaries for their deceased colleagues and collaborated on a comprehensive front page piece that captured the tragedy as it happened—all while holding themselves to the highest journalistic standards.
This past week has been a harrowing and heartrending one for the miniature staff of the Lake Mills Graphic as we have struggled to deal with our own crisis: the passing of Terry Gasper, the death of a mentor, the loss of a father and husband. Despite losing a crucial colleague and loved one, we put out a paper this week and we will again next week. The Lake Mills Graphic is first and foremost a family paper (most small town weekly rags are, after all); it’s also a paper with its own historical significance and import, as it has been inextricably intertwined with the lives of the Lake Mills community for over 100 years—the families of Lake Mills have turned to the Graphic, for decades, to view the smiling faces of the high school’s recent graduates; to read the obituaries of community leaders after their passing; to receive crucial news about all the goings-on in the area; to reflect and contend with Lake Mills place in the world; to speak with one another; to understand each other.
In this time of crisis and tragedy in the journalism world both great and small—local and global—I implore you, dear reader. . . . Please do not forget the importance of your local newspaper and newspapers all over the world; the writing professionals across the globe that are literally risking life and limb to bring you the news as it happens. Journalists are not your enemy. Journalists are people who care about the future of their communities; they are people who care about the future of the world; they are people who are deeply committed to the truth and to bringing it to you, to the best of their ability and as they perceive it. Most of all, please remember that journalists are your neighbors and that they too, are worthy of your love.