Death in A Newsroom

Yesterday’s story about the deaths of five journalists for the Annapolis “Capital Gazette” made anger tear through me like the bullets that claimed their lives.

I am angry at the gunman, angry about yet another senseless mass shooting and angry that we have a President so dismissive about the enshrined Constitutional protections of a free press that he dares to call it “the enemy of the people.”

If the media is the people’s enemy, why in their wisdom did the Founding Fathers consider it one of the first things in need of protection?

Perhaps because they envisioned a day when someone would repress it in ways beyond the excessive taxation of newsprint itself.

I got my start in journalism in a newsroom probably very similar to that of the “Capital Gazette.”

Then called “The Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder,” (TPR for short), I started my reporting days there via a college internship program that turned into a full-time employment opportunity.

Though we only published twice per week, we did our best to provide the same comprehensive coverage as the county daily. This meant putting in 80 hour weeks that began on Monday and ended at noon on Friday after that week’s last edition was “put out.”

It meant scrambling all day to write features on agriculture, education and Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant only to spend the evenings attending harbor commission, city council and boards of education meetings.  Then I would leave some of those meetings at midnight to have to be back at 6 am on a Wednesday or Friday morning to write stories that had to be turned in by 9 am for a noon publication.

I often did this with my then toddler son in tow, sleeping nestled in blankets under my desk as I typed away until it was time to wake him, feed him, drive him to day care and return to the story waiting in my IBM Selectric for its final touches.

Had I been in that routine in today’s media environment, my son could have been a victim to this senseless violence.

Newsrooms, you see, are places of intimacy where colleagues quickly become families as well as competitors for stories once called “above the fold.”

In few other workplaces could I, as a single parent, combine my responsibilities of motherhood and reporter.

I remember the people and their names to this day: Mary, who would go on to become my roommate and remains a dear friend, an “aunt” figure to my son; Jerry, whose acerbic wit and critical eye on my stories made me improve my reporting of them; John, the diligent editor who made my copy better (and infinitely shorter); Rosemary, our social pages editor and Tom, who filled two pages of sports each edition; Dick, the publisher and owner of a small town California paper with a national news story I was responsible for covering in his own backyard.

And God help you if you got scooped on that story by the county daily or the national press.  This was “our story” in our “territory,” not theirs.

Every time Trump refers to the “dishonest” media, I want to scream because his is the true dishonesty – taking a broad brush that paints an inaccurate label over an entire industry of people who work insufferably hard for pay that is often not commensurate with the hours, education and dedication required to do the job.

Meanwhile those community papers that struggle to hold on in the digital era are fewer and fewer in existence.  Something has been leeched from our sense of community as a result.

The last thing they need is to be caught in the cross hairs of Trump’s dishonest rhetoric because he can’t stand the fact Jeff Bezos has more money and owns “The Washington Post,” or that Jeff Zucker at CNN doesn’t show Trump enough fealty for putting in a good word at his hiring.

Because that is the source of Trump’s true ire at a press he simultaneously castigates and secretly courts because he covets its praise.

Trump’s neediness for adulation will be the death not only of these journalists, but of our nation as well.

For as Thomas Jefferson so simply said, “The only security of all is in a free press.”

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