The man was angry at the newspaper and maybe crazy enough to do something terrible.
That sentence could be uttered by countless journalists, including me. But the person we’re hearing from now is Tom Marquardt, the former, longtime head of the Annapolis, Md., newsroom, where the feared but unthinkable happened yesterday: five people at the Capital Gazette were shot to death.
One of the things I loved during my 38 years at The Saratogian was working in the heart of the little city we covered in a building where people walked in off the street to bring in a news tip, a dean’s list announcement, a complaint.
That openness is one of the things that scared me, too.
After past violence, news companies barricaded the public from the community they serve, converting their walk-in newspapers into fortresses accessible with badges and keypads. I’m skeptical about security; the Capital Gazette killer blasted through a glass door. In any case, at The Saratogian and other small papers, no such protection ever existed.
You can bet I was nervous when I was the last one in the building, way after dark, after going to City Court over a man who threatened to rape me. City police made official visits to a handful of others who scared us enough to report. One man was ordered to stop contacting a reporter, to stop showing up where she was covering news (that he had no business at), to stop waiting near her car. Others were told by police that the newsroom was off limits. For a while, someone sent streams of weird and frightening astrological messages to me and, it turned out, other area journalists; police talked him into stopping.
But a talking-to by police at the request of the Annapolis newspaper wasn’t enough to stop that shooter.
I remember Tom Marquardt as a respected newsman from my long-ago involvement in a national managing editors’ group. At his newspaper, like mine (on a smaller scale), staffers wear many hats, juggling multiple beats, writing and editing for ancillary publications, putting in crazy hours. Newspapers tick people off all the time. You just keep doing your job, knowing some people will hate you but figuring the odds of being safe are in your favor.
My heart breaks for all the victims of such violence – schoolchildren, police officers, anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their loved ones. Every loss is a tragedy. And I don’t want to make this political. I’m not blaming the president for the Annapolis shooter, who has been at odds with the Capital Gazette for several years.
I do, however, want the president to tell the world that, contrary to his repeated statements, journalists are NOT the enemy of the people.
Journalists are compulsive story-tellers who love their jobs — whether it’s exposing wrongdoing, raising issues or public concern, covering a game, celebrating people’s milestones — and know their work is important to their community.