A madman with a vendetta and a shotgun will not stop the press

In this Thursday, June 28, 2018 photo, The Capital Gazette photojournalist Joshua McKerrow, center, works with colleagues in a parking garage of a mall in Annapolis, Md., during coverage of the fatal shootings that happened in their paper’s newsroom earlier in the day. (Thalia Juarez/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

 

If you’re a reporter in the news business long enough, you’ve written stories just like the one a former Capital Gazette columnist penned about Jarrod Ramos and some trouble he got into back in 2011.

Ramos is the guy who apparently felt so begrudged by the columnist’s words that he blasted through the glass door of the Annapolis, Maryland, newspaper and mowed down four journalists and a sales assistant Thursday afternoon.

The column was unflattering. It was also true, said Maryland’s second highest court in its ruling in favor of the newspaper after Ramos sued claiming defamation.

Truth is the best defense in those cases, we are taught in Journalism 101.

Yesterday we were reminded that truth is not a shield from a madman with a vendetta and a shotgun.

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If you’ve been in the news business long enough, you’ve been threatened. You’ve likely been called vulgar names. Maybe you’ve even been spat at, pushed around, chased down a street or had a weapon drawn on you.

It happens sometimes. It is happening more often.

These are dangerous times for truth.

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Just three days before the shooting, President Donald Trump at a rally in South Carolina pointed at the journalists in the back of the room, and shouted: “They are the enemy of the people.”

In North Dakota this week and in Duluth last week, he used similar language. He called journalists there liars and fakes. The crowds there booed media members, who are routinely confined to a gated pen during these gatherings.

These were not the first times he has hurled words of hate against the press.

I suspect they won’t be his last.

The vitriol helped get him elected.

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If you’ve been in the news business long enough, you also know that bullets and hate-filled bluster won’t stop the presses or silence the airwaves.

They didn’t in the midst of murder in Annapolis Thursday.

Reporters took to Twitter to document what they saw and heard. An intern asked for help. Another reporter, in the midst of reporting the news about his colleagues’ deaths, tweeted: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

And they did.

And they won’t stop reporting stories today in hundreds of American newsrooms.

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If you are a reporter, a photographer, a radio producer, an editor, or a columnist in the business you got up today to do it all over again because doing journalism is not what we do, but who we are.

Or if you couldn’t sleep last night and were Capital Gazette reporter Phil Davis, you continued to Tweet the news.

If you are so inclined: Bloomberg Government reporter Madi Alexander started a Gofundme page for the journalists at the Capital Gazette.

Or better yet, get a subscription and support your local news outlet.

Chris Graves is the Digital Managing Editor at MPR News.