The job of reporting continues on despite tragedy

Published 8:26 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

On Thursday, a one-man attack on the newsroom staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland left five staff members dead in a devastating tragedy.

The man responsible for the attack was quickly identified as Jarrod W. Ramos. Ramos, 38, had a dispute with The Capital Gazette dating back to 2011, when the newspaper published an article detailing a guilty plea Ramos had made relating to a harassment charge filed by a former classmate. Employees at the time of the subsequent legal dealings, including former publisher Tom Marquardt, feared this man might resort to violence one day.

That day came Thursday afternoon.

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The events from Thursday played out in real time on social media and across various online platforms in chilling fashion. Ramos forced his way into The Capital Gazette, firing a shotgun round through the glass door leading into the office. Then, barricading the back door to ensure no employees could escape, he silently and methodically stalked through the office, sending round after round into the newsroom. He paused once, to reload, before continuing. As police responded, Ramos hid beneath a desk before being apprehended.

The events of Thursday left Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith dead. Their lives ended at the hands of a deeply disturbed man taking horrible actions. 

His actions quickly permeated the national consciousness. For those working in the field of journalism, this tragedy hit home especially hard. The nation has been noticeably numbed by school shootings in recent years, but this was new territory. News organizations, long recognized as vital pillars of local communities, suddenly became vulnerable in a new way. Law enforcement responded to newspapers and news organizations in the New York City area as a precautionary measure, as those in Annapolis and elsewhere scrambled to determine the nature of the attack.

Fortunately, at this stage, it looks like one angry man taking solitary action.

As more information came, it showed the perpetrator to be a small, weak and unstable man with a multiple year grudge. While there has been and was an outpouring of support for those affected, The Capital Gazette got to work publishing Friday’s edition. The only story on Friday’s front page had 10 bylines. The opinion page was left intentionally blank. 

The Capital Gazette published its Friday edition — because that is what newspapers do. Being some 750 miles removed from that newsroom, I still take pride in the effort put forth by that staff, and my heart breaks for them as well.

The economic realities of and evolution by print media to digital has long been accessed and slowly been realized in the last decade. But the more unsettling distrust in all media that has taken place in recent years has been the a more difficult pill to swallow. There is an atrophy of the public’s trust in media as a whole. Talking heads and misinformed citizens now resort to the battle cry of ‘Fake News!’ when confronted with a headline or a story that competes with their own viewpoint. This has been, in this newspaper man’s opinion, the single most disheartening development relating to how our country consumes information. Discourse has broken down, as has the public’s ability to accept and respond appropriately to conflicting viewpoints. This has happened so completely, so absolutely, that a man walks into a newspaper office, murders five human beings in cold blood, and the country’s reaction seems to be numbed, as a result of what we have already endured.

The news is sad, but not unbelievable.

The Capital Gazette, like thousands of local newspapers across the country including the Valley Times-News, has one agenda. To keep the public informed of the events taking place in its community while offering labeled responsible opinion. We do not lean politically to one side or the other in our news columns, do not alter or skew facts to favor one viewpoint. We deliver fact-based news. While discourse has broken down, newspapers like The Capital Gazette are at work, doing what can be done to resurrect this damaged cornerstone of American society. 

On Thursday, tragedy struck a group of people in Annapolis, Maryland. In the face of that tragedy, that group of people responded Friday by doing what they knew how to do – put out that day’s newspaper. In doing so they honored their colleagues in the most fitting way.

The Valley Times-News, like The Capital Gazette, works to preserve a pure vehicle for information delivery and responsibly labeled opinion. Each newspaper has that obligation and opportunity.

The Thursday events are real, tragic and frightening, but they will not stop local newspapers from doing what they have always done. We will continue to do our daily job in print and digital in our effort to serve our communities, even though some may not like what is written. 

We thus carry out our responsibilities to our community.