Do I feel safe in the newsroom? That is the question I find myself asking after a man with a shotgun stormed into the offices of the Maryland Capital Gazette and shot four journalists and a sales assistant last month.
The short answer is yes, the Voice office is small, we normally don’t get too much foot traffic and we’re relatively close to the department of public safety. However, the topic in question is still something that lingers in the back of my mind, another straw of stress to add to the camel’s back, another bad thought that frankly journalists should not have to worry about but now do in this day and age. Despite these worries, we must press on.
Of course it is common for media organizations to receive letters to the editor, perhaps a backhanded comment that makes your skin prickle, or even a threat.
I have received numerous letters to the editor, all of them benign, but some strongly worded and I have only done one interview where I felt briefly intimidated. When I was a staff reporter and managing editor for my college’s newspaper in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Xpress, there were a few odd moments. One morning upon walking into the building where our newsroom was located, I spotted in big white letters written in chalk on the concrete, “Golden Gate Express is fake news.” Yes, this was frustrating, but it was not threatening as they didn’t even bother spelling the name of the newspaper correctly.
At one point while at the Xpress, we also had a student either come into the newsroom or call perhaps every other week wanting to get his opinion piece in. We typically would publish student submitted op-eds, however, it wasn’t well-written, was about four pages long and was not relevant even after trying to work with him to revise it. Yet, he kept coming in, sending messages, calling and even made a point to find my editor and I while we were having a coffee break. I think this person was more persistent than anything else and probably wouldn’t harm a flea, but still, it was a little weird.
Other than that, I have yet to have any serious experiences or real threats, seasoned journalists are used to it; yet, they are not used to people making good on their threats.
As reported by The New York Times, Tom Marquardt, a former Capital Gazette executive editor and publisher wrote on Facebook, “The Capital, like all newspapers, angered people every day in its pursuit of the news. In my day, people protested by writing letters to the editor; today it is through the barrel of a gun. Sure, I had death threats and the paper had bomb threats. But we shrugged them off as part of the business we were in.”
Having to worry about protests coming from “the barrel of a gun,” is not fair. Sure life isn’t fair, but journalists are just trying to seek the truth and report the news. If someone is angered by what we may write, wouldn’t it be better to send in a letter to us, channel any anger you may have and maybe we would be able to have a productive conversation?
Yet sadly this isn’t the first shooting of journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 33 journalists were killed in 2018. Some were killed in conflict zones while reporting in the field and others were simply murdered. In 2015, 12 reporters were killed in France when two gunmen with ties to Al-Qaeda attacked the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
And even if we do feel safe in our newsrooms, it is an added burden of stress to think about. If this were to happen here, where would I hide, where would I run, how could we get the paper out? Theoretically, anyone could easily walk into this office with a malevolent agenda to do harm.
As reported in an article by Katie Rogers in the health section of The New York Times in 2016, the constant barrage of violent shootings, bombings or terrorist attacks can desensitize us and cause an added sense of anxiety.
The Times interviewed a phycologist, Anita Gadhia-Smith, and as reported by the article she said, “With the frequency of shootings and terror attacks there is a sense of anxiety that’s building in people. A sense of vulnerability and powerlessness.”
Nevertheless, journalists have jobs to do, we shouldn’t let these fears and worries stop us from doing what is important.
Gazette reporter Chase Cook, summed this sentiment up beautifully in a salute to the fallen journalists in a tweet, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” and that they did.