Monday, July 02, 2018

Reflections on value and dangers of community journalism in the wake of Annapolis shooting; moment of silence set

UPDATE: The American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Managing Editors ask "newsrooms around the globe" to join their members and The Baltimore Sun Media Group, owner of the Capital-Gazette, in a moment of silence spent in contemplation, prayer, reflection or meditation at 2:33 p.m. ET Thursday, July 5, "to honor those who lost their lives and to show support to those who lost family, friends, co-workers and peers."

Last week's deadly shooting at the Capital-Gazette in Annapolis, Md., has inspired a wave of supportive columns and essays from other journalists about the value of local newspapers and community journalists.

In a column for the Miami Herald, Dave Barry reminisces about his days as a rookie reporter at the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa. Since then, he writes, most of his friends have been newspaper journalists: "No offense to any other profession, but these are, pound for pound, the smartest, funniest, most interested and most interesting people there are. They love what they do, and most of them do it for lousy pay, at a time when the economic situation of newspapers is precarious, and layoffs are common."

Barry acknowledges that a tiny fraction of journalists are incompetent or dishonest, but "The news people I know are still passionate about what they do, and they do it remarkably well. And here's the corny-but-true part: They do it for you. Every time they write a story, they're hoping you'll read it, maybe learn something new, maybe smile, maybe get mad and want to do something."

In The Washington Post, Arelis Hernandez eulogizes Annapolis shooting victim Wendi Winters, an editor and community reporter: "No matter was too provincial, no event too pedestrian and no neighbor too ordinary for Winters to notice in her weekly dispatches. She featured an elderly couple retiring after a half-century of running a local diner and made an abandoned missile site sound like a worthy Saturday afternoon jaunt." She "made the mundane marvelous."

Bill Rail, former publisher,
Independent Appeal
Kevin Slimp of State of Newspapers writes, "I don’t think most people have any idea how dangerous serious journalism can be. What happened in Maryland is a possibility at any real newspaper every day." Journalists are all too familiar with death threats, and "it's an alarming part of the life of a journalist." He mentions a telephone threat several years ago to the publisher of the Independent Appeal in Selmer, Tenn., who responded thusly: “Yes this is me … Yes, I saw the story … Yes, I told them they could run it … How many brothers you got? How many guns you got? Well, I’ve got a baseball bat. Meet me in front of our building in 15 minutes.” Publisher Bill Rail told Slimp, “I get a call like that just about every week. You just have to get used to it in this business.”

In an editorial for the Index-Journal in Greenwood, S.C., the editors write that the shooting "matters to us because you matter to us. This is our community too. We don’t just parachute in, tell a story and leave. This is our home too. And so it grieves us, it grieves us deeply when we learn that others who have answered the very same calling as community journalists are killed." The Capital and the Index-Journal have the same goal, the editors write: "be a reflection of the community. Tell its stories, which are not always good, not always happy, not always what you want to clip and place on the refrigerator. That is what a community newspaper is all about. A true community newspaper reports the good, the bad and the ugly, but the good is as important to us to report as is the bad and the ugly."

And John Temple writes for The Atlantic: "One of the reasons I loved working in local journalism was that I felt close to the stories I covered. I would meet people I wrote about in the grocery store. Or at a movie theater. There was no getting away from seeing them again, whether I wrote something that might have angered them or something they liked. It’s one of the things that keeps journalists honest. There are thousands across the country doing this daily work, striving to get one more story, one more fact, one more picture to capture the life of their community. They’re the ones who create the front pages memorializing everything from the victory of a local sports team to the devastation of a local flood or fire. Local journalists and their newspapers play a special role. They help define a community’s character and identity."

Indira Lakshmanan of The Poynter Institute has a good roundup of other commentary, with her take on President Trump's attacks ("Journalists took to social media after the Annapolis shooting in despair that anti-media rhetoric is poisoning the country against us") and saying that regaining "the respect of those who don’t understand our work . . . starts with explaining our values and what we do."

UPDATE: Kyle Pope, editor of Columbia Journalism Review, says the incident shows that despite the nasty rhetoric aimed at national journalists, those at the local level may be most at risk: "the proximity of local newsrooms to their communities makes them different. Most of their readers live a short drive away. Many know where the newsroom’s offices are located. And, security tends to be slim or nonexistent. (At the Gazette, even an intense level of security would most likely have been ineffective; the suspect, Jarrod Ramos, shot through the paper’s glass front door, before entering the newsroom.) Local newsrooms are accessible for a reason—it’s part of what makes them integral to the life of their communities. People come in to buy ads. Readers bring in photos of their kids’ sports teams. Tipsters drop by with gossip. It is heartbreaking, but necessary, to recognize that the openness that defines local news likely carries too high a risk; local newsrooms, at least for now, may have no choice but to fortify themselves."

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