ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) – A little more than a month ago, the Navy Blue Angels streaked over Spa Creek in Annapolis to celebrate another commissioning week for the U.S. Naval Academy. This week, bullets smashed through the glass doors of the Capital Gazette’s newsroom, and a lone gunman killed five and gravely injured many more.
Courthouse News Service, if you haven’t gathered by now, is a national publication comprised of reporters and editors who work in a virtual newsroom. We are many, and we are spread out across the country.
I am the bureau chief for a region stretching from Pennsylvania down the east coast to the last tip of Florida and then across the Caribbean into Puerto Rico.
But I live in downtown Annapolis, not far the Capital Gazette newsroom, close enough to hear the cacophony of sirens scream past my peninsula in the minutes after the shooting began.
I spend my days assigning coverage of national stories, I spend my nights and weekends fishing for perch on Back Creek with my kids, and I’ve spent many an evening at the local watering holes talking shop with reporters from the Capital, commiserating over whatever beer is on special.
When a reporting position opens up for us in D.C. or Baltimore, my desk is flooded with resumes listing the Capital as experience. I’ve sat across the table from some of those writers in interviews. I’ve hired a few.
In the hours following the shooting, we learned quite a bit about the alleged gunman, a man in his late thirties who held a grudge against the paper for running a column about his stalking of a girl he knew from high school.
But we knew right away that the Capital Gazette – a nondescript office park building across the street from a large shopping mall and surrounded by dozens of other commercial buildings – was the target, and speculation raged.
Last year, President Trump took to Twitter to call the New York Times and CNN, among others, “the enemy of the American people,” a thought he echoed at a rally in South Carolina earlier this week, while Democrats and liberals bemoan the political commentary of Fox News on a daily basis.
The common thread is one that is troubling to those of us working in newsrooms, physical and virtual alike: the media is bad.
The blood spilled in the Capital’s newsroom hadn’t yet dried before a frustrated mob logged onto social media, filling up news feeds with memes slanting the carnage every which way that suited their beliefs.
Some blamed an unwillingness to address gun control, others the inflammatory remarks of the president and other polarizing political personalities. Points and counterpoints flew like the bullets had mere minutes before.
And throughout the discourse, the media took its share of the blame, fair or not.
People tend to think of the media as a giant single-cell organism, pulling strings to undercut their values or keep their candidates from winning, and it’s easy to step in that trap flipping from CNN to Fox to MSNBC during the prime time hours. The pundits become a choir of pontificating static, dissonant and abrasive.
But the media isn’t just Sean Hannity delivering his nightly defense of the president, or Brian Williams spinning some yarn about taking enemy fire in a helicopter.
The media wears wrinkled suits, guzzles cheap beer and makes just enough money (sometimes) to not have to have a roommate.
The media is folks like Capital Gazette reporter Phil Davis, who tweeted what was happening in real time as he hid under his desk listening to the metal-on-metal clacking of reloading while his coworkers became casualties.
The media is a local daily publication that posted the news story on its website just 45 minutes after the last casing hit the floor of its newsroom and the alleged gunman was apprehended.
It’s fair to say I’m feeling quite a bit of guilt. Five people were shot dead in a newsroom, just shy of two miles from my office, where as the first report of a shotgun rang out, I was assigning coverage of an Eleventh Circuit ruling over a nuclear plant’s clean-up costs in Georgia, listening to a Jack White record while my dog slept peacefully in his spot beside my desk.
But I also feel admiration, respect and pride, watching my peers go through the unimaginable, pull themselves together and deliver us the news.
“I can tell you this,” tweeted Capital reporter Chase Cook just three hours after the shooting, “we are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”
To our friends at the Capital Gazette who are dedicated to telling the stories of my town, and whose courage is inspiring to us as fellow story tellers, the next round is on me.