What in the world is wrong with this world?
On Thursday afternoon, a clearly unstable man went into the newsroom of a community newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, and opened fire on the paper’s unsuspecting employees with a shotgun. By the time he stopped, he had killed five people and seriously injured two others.
Why? Because he didn’t like something a reporter wrote about him in the newspaper when he was arrested for harassment — in 2011. That’s right. The story that so incensed this individual was published seven years ago.
A defamation lawsuit he filed against the newspaper a year later was dismissed in 2015. That’s right, three years ago.
Now, five people who had nothing to do with any of it lost their lives. They just went to work Thursday to do their jobs and now they will never return home again.
I’ve been in the newspaper business for 27 years now, and I’ve always known something like this was possible. We make 50 percent of our customers mad 100 percent of the time, and all it takes is one nut job to take matters into his or her own hands for tragedy to strike.
Ironically, we had a situation involving an upset individual here at the office Thursday morning, just hours before the shooting occurred in Annapolis. This individual was so agitated we had to get the police involved to convince him to leave the office and be on his way.
I shudder to think what could have happened.
Now newspapers have joined schools, churches and others as places where mass shootings occur. And we’re not talking about The New York Times or The Washington Post here. The Capital Gazette is a small, community newspaper not unlike ours, which is probably why this has hit so close to home for the staffs at both The Walton Tribune and The Covington News.
But for the grace of God ...
Folks, this is going to come as a surprise to you, but the people who do this job don’t do it for the money. This isn’t a 40-hour-a-week gig and nobody here is getting rich, believe me.
We do what we do because we have a genuine desire to serve this community. Whether the community always realizes it or not, always agrees with us or not, or always appreciates it or not is irrelevant.
I’ve heard my contemporaries in this business, on more than one occasion, say newspapers have a consitutional right to report the news. That’s true, but it misses the point. Newspapers, in my opinion, actually have a constitutional obligation to report the news. That’s different.
Keeping citizens informed about their community is the only chance they have to be better citizens and to be served by a better government. To believe otherwise is folly.
Five people who answered this noble calling needlessly lost their lives Thursday. My thoughts and prayers are with them, their families and the remaining staff, who still managed to produce a newspaper Thursday despite the carnage in their very own newsroom.
We owe it to those who were killed, and to those who survived, to not just continue to do our jobs, but to do our jobs better than we ever have before.
Patrick Graham is the owner of The Covington News and The Walton Tribune. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.