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Shooting victims believed newspapers matter
July 6, 2018

BY GABE LICHT
Editor

Ideally, this would be a local column.

It could be about the 4th of July Celebration, the volunteers who worked to make it successful, and everyone who worked to make the park look so nice.

I could write about my misadventures in trying to cover the 5K, running in it, and then photographing the parade. I had actually planned such a column because I knew this wasn’t my smartest idea of all time. (Maybe I’ll write that one next week.)

Another topic could have been the poor driving conduct that endangered the many pedestrians around town during the festivities, though I can always write about this whether there’s extra traffic or not.

But, I’m sorry. I can’t write about any of that in this column.

My heart is heavy with emotion following the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, that killed five and injured others, and I’m going to let it pour out onto this page as a sort of therapy.

Those five individuals did not deserve to die.

Their family and friends did not deserve to lose their loved ones.

Those who were hurt did not deserve their injuries.

The survivors did not deserve to have their coworkers ripped from them and be traumatized for the rest of their lives.

It was a senseless act allegedly carried out by someone with a grudge over a 2011 column about him, although his victims had nothing to do with his grievance, not that that would have justified it in anyway. The journalist who wrote the column using public information and the editor who approved it were just doing their jobs, as were those victimized by him.

I was so busy the day of the attack that I didn’t find out about this tragedy until someone told me when I was sitting in a boardroom waiting for a meeting to start.

I didn’t get a chance to really look into it until the next day. When I finally did, it set in and I broke down.

If I’m over here in Minnesota getting emotional, I can’t imagine how those in the community there are feeling, let alone the employees at the Capital Gazette and their colleagues at their parent company, the Baltimore Sun Media Group.

And yet, reporter Chase Cook pledged on Twitter: “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

That is exactly what Cook and his coworkers did, working from a parking lot in a garage adjacent to their office building to do so.

I just can’t imagine what they were going through, and I don’t know if I would have the resolve to do what they did if I found myself in a similar situation.

Not only did they put out a paper, but they put out a paper they could be proud of despite the primary subject matter.

The front page featured photos of the five victims who were killed. I’m glad the focus was on them and not the shooter, who was named but not pictured on the front page.

The opinion page was left blank except for this message:

“Today, we are speechless.

This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shootings at our office:

Gerald Fischman

Rob Hiaasen

John McNamara

Wendi Winters

Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”

It should be noted that Fischman was a member of the Capital Gazette Editorial Board.

According to tributes in the newspaper, he was remembered as a “clever and quirky voice of a community newspaper; Hiaasen was described as “a joyful stylist, a generous mentor;” Winters was called “a prolific writer who chronicled her community;” McNamara considered sports reporting his “dream job;” and Smith, a sales assistant, was a recent hire who “loved spending time with family.”

The tributes won’t stop there.

“We will honor our colleagues’ memories by continuing our mission delivering the news to the communities we serve and provide our staff with the support they need,” publisher Trif Alatzas said.

I believe all community journalists have an opportunity to honor them, and the fallen journalists before them, by providing accurate and adequate coverage.

At least one community member believes sports editor Matt Kane and I are doing so, and told us in an email.

“In light of yesterday’s tragedy in Annapolis, I just wanted to say thank you to you both for what you do. The world needs community newspapers and, while I’m sure the pay isn’t great and the criticism comes with the job, it is appreciated that we have dedicated people like yourselves doing good work. Thanks for all your efforts to put out a great paper in our town!”

Though everyone may not agree with that sentiment, it means a lot to me that someone cared and appreciated us, and the Delano Herald Journal as a whole, enough to say something so kind.

Though I know I make mistakes, and will continue to do so, considering I’m human, I don’t want to let this emailer or anyone in the community down by not taking pride in my job.

Community newspapers matter.

The victims of the shooting believed that.

Their cohorts who carried on in the most difficult situation believed that.

I believe that, and I hope you do, too.

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