Connie Schultz: After attack in Annapolis, the anger stage of grief
It’s a big deal, as a journalist, to work for The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal.
Wielding the press badge of one of the biggest newspapers in the country is a fast-track pass onto talk shows, including ones that cover the practice of journalism. Even as just a contributor, your work is likelier to be cited in morning news roundups and quoted on shows. It’s as if nothing worth mentioning happens unless it’s noticed by journalists in New York or Washington.
The rest of America knows this isn’t so, as do the journalists who cover it.
Working for regional and smaller newspapers is a big deal, too, but for different reasons. These newsrooms are the heart of their communities, with journalists tracking the pulse of everyday events. With dwindling resources and shrinking staffs, these journalists work harder than ever to reflect the depth and breadth of life unfolding around them.
It’s not that national news isn’t important to them or to their readers. It’s just that the rest of life matters, too:
The local garden club’s 61st annual May Day Basket Competition and the outpouring of support for the softball coach who has cancer.
The woman who runs a ranch for abandoned pets and farm animals and the firefighters’ annual Santa Run to raise money for children who won’t have a Christmas without it.
The college teen on scholarship trying to decide whether she wants to be a doctor and the annual community theater guide for performances around town.
This is the lifeblood of a community, the stories of its people. And without the support of that community, through digital and print subscriptions, such newspapers couldn’t exist. Never has it been more important to subscribe. If that’s you, thank you.
Last week, one of these community newspapers experienced an unthinkable but all-too-easily imaginable tragedy in these volatile times. An angry reader who had made no secret of his hatred for the Capital Gazette opened fire in its newsroom, killing four of its journalists — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Wendi Winters — and sales assistant Rebecca Smith. Two others were injured. Everyone who survived will never be the same.
This happened in a newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, but it has rocked journalists around the country. Like countless others, I kept refreshing links to the breaking news story, waiting for the names. Once we knew who had died, the grieving began — among those who personally knew and loved the victims and among the rest of us who knew them by their calling. Anyone who has worked in a newsroom has most likely imagined how vulnerable they were when the shooting began.
Many of us have quickly reached the anger stage of grief. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has mocked journalists, encouraging crowds to taunt them at his rallies. At one such rally three days before the Capital Gazette shooting, he again called us “the enemy of the people.” He has not apologized for that.
Tom Marquardt is the former editor and publisher of Capital Gazette Communications. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post the day after the attack, he wrote:
“President Trump isn’t responsible for the Annapolis tragedy any more than the Second Amendment is. But he and his supporters seem to have forgotten that the Constitution that gives them the right to bear arms is the same document that safeguards the right to free speech. You cannot honor one amendment without honoring the other 26. Those dedicated Capital Gazette journalists, like others before them and surely others after them, fought for free speech at all costs, including death. It’s not prayers their survivors and co-workers need; it’s respect for what reporters and editors do every day.
“In my 42 years of journalism, I never knew a reporter whose goal was anything more than reporting unvarnished facts, no matter what the consequences. They wore that policy like a badge of honor. They put their names on the stories they wrote and added contact information. Reporters at small newspapers, such as Capital Gazette, were open to visitors, many of whom came with grudges.”
Unlike a lot of national journalists, local reporters and columnists want you to find them. They want to hear what you have to say. In an increasingly threatening environment, they have become even more transparent, more recognizable.
The Capital Gazette’s Wendi Winters was like that, so interested in her community, so invested in the stories of other people’s lives.
That list of local stories I mentioned earlier?
She wrote every one of them.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.