That is our mission

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rob Hiaasen. Gerald Fischman. John McNamara. Rebecca Smith. Wendi Winters.

Those five names might not mean anything to most of you reading this column, but they mean a great deal to me.

Those five individuals were the people who were senselessly murdered last week at the office of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. According to multiple reports, the alleged shooter had engaged in a long pattern of threats and harassment against the paper and its employees stemming from a column written several years ago about his conviction for harassing a former high school classmate.

The suspect sued the paper unsuccessfully in 2012, and ever since then had held a grudge that ultimately led to last week’s tragedy.

As you can imagine, what happened in Maryland hit pretty close to home for me and for journalists everywhere. The shooting happened to occur at the same time that the Arkansas Press Association was holding its annual super-convention in Eureka Springs, and it generated a great deal of discussion at the convention.

Under different circumstances, this column might be a more jovial celebration of our success at Carroll County Newspapers. Each year, the press association convention’s final event is an awards luncheon where journalists from across the state are honored for their work. Our team at Carroll County Newspapers brought home 35 awards this year, including eight individual first-place awards, the photo of the year in a category that included every newspaper in the state and most importantly, first place in General Excellence for the Carroll County News for the second consecutive year.

We have a wonderful team of journalists at Carroll County Newspapers, and we are committed to delivering a quality news product to our readers. We are blessed to live and work in a place where the vast majority of the stories we publish are what might be described as “positive” stories — stories about the county fair or programs at the local library or the Farm Family of the Year. Yes, we sometimes have to report on things that aren’t as pleasant. That’s part of our responsibility, too.

Even here, though, even in a wonderful community with a newspaper that obviously is pretty doggone good, we aren’t immune.

In the four years I’ve been here, we’ve had a reporter physically threatened over a feature story. We’ve had angry letters and lost advertisers over our news coverage. A freelance contributor was accosted in a local restaurant over an editorial decision that I made. As recently as Friday, a caller threatened to sue us over a news story that she apparently hadn’t even read.

There are a thousand smaller insults, too — like former employees who make snide remarks on Facebook or people who sit down at our table at lunch without invitation and make rude comments. That sort of thing happens to journalists everywhere these days — even right here in Carroll County.

Most of the time we are able to take these things in stride. But we are human. We hear and see the things that are said about us, and it’s sometimes incredibly frustrating.

In an era when the president of the United States labels the free press as the enemy of the people and cowards on the Internet call for journalists to be shot on sight, I would like to ask those of you reading this column to remember that journalists are people just like you. We don’t do the jobs we do to hurt people or to win awards. We certainly don’t do it for a big paycheck. We do it because we believe our readers deserve to know what is happening in their communities. We do it for you.

In closing, I’d like to copy remarks by Jimmy DeButts, community news editor of the Capital Gazette, who tweeted the following after the shooting in Annapolis:

“There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community. We keep doing more with less. We find ways to cover high school sports, breaking news, tax hikes, school budgets & local entertainment. We are there in times of tragedy. We do our best to share the stories of people, those who make our community better. Please understand, we do all this to serve our community. We try to expose corruption. We fight to get access to public records & bring to light the inner workings of government despite major hurdles put in our way. The reporters & editors put their all into finding the truth. That is our mission. Will always be.”

Amen.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.