JOURNALISTS do a job that sometimes is dangerous. Mostly those at risk are out in the field, reporting from unstable parts of the world.
World Press Freedom Day on May 3 calculated that more than 2,500 journalists had been killed since 1990, according to a report on the BBC website.
That report was published as ten media professionals were killed in two separate incidents in Afghanistan. In one incident, reporters who gathered at the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Kabul died when a second suicide bomber, disguised as a journalist, blew himself up.
The journalists who died yesterday in the US at the Maryland office of the Capital Gazette were doing what should have been a less risky job. The five members of staff who were killed were named as Wendi Winters, 65, editor and community reporter; Robert Hiaasen, 59, assistant editor and columnist; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial writer; John McNamara, 56, reporter and editor; and Rebecca Smith, 34, sales assistant.
Ordinary people doing an everyday sort of job on the newspaper that serves their local community. The sort of people you’d meet in any regional or local newspaper in this country. The sort of people many of us worked alongside. The sort of people we used to be or still are.
Sadly, such dedicated people are an endangered species, with a report commissioned ahead of the Cairncross review into newspapers finding that the number of frontline print journalists has “dropped by more than a quarter… from about 23,000 in 2007 to 17,000 last year”, according to the Press Gazette.
But let’s remember and celebrate those five people in Maryland who died while working in the office of their local newspaper. Reports suggest that the alleged killer, Jarrod Ramos, had a long-held grudge against the newspaper after losing a defamation case.
Anyone who has worked in a local or regional newspaper office will have encountered less extreme displays of hostility. Readers love their local newspapers. But sometimes they hate them too, or love/hate them in a potentially unstable manner.
Partly this is the nature of reporting. This inquisitive art should sometimes involve putting your nose where it’s not wanted in the name of uncovering news that is important to readers.
The Capital Gazette did what newspapers usually do. The show went on and a new edition was printed today, featuring photos of those who died.
As one of the paper’s reporters, blessed with the suitably go-getting name of Chase Cook, tweeted: “We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”
President Trump sent his “thoughts and prayers”, as he always does, while also reportedly walking away from reporters who wanted to ask questions about the shooting.
What prayers can the gun-loving National Rifle Association call upon? Only the hope that its deep pockets prevent any curtailment of America’s crazy gun laws. As for prayers, how about this: “Jesus loves me and my guns.” That slogan was splashed across a T-shirt worn by a retired baseball player at the association’s “prayer breakfast”.
And with thoughts like that, the rest of us don’t have a prayer.
This latest atrocity in the US cannot be directly linked to Trump and his futile “thoughts and prayers”. But it is fair to say that his endless hostility towards the “fake news media” puts journalists at risk.
Obviously, I didn’t know those people who died. But looking at the photographs makes me feel I did. They fit right in with a long line of ordinary, hard-working journalists I know and have known.
A truly terrible day, but well done for getting a paper out and paying tribute to those you have lost.