I missed seeing my middle daughter win first place in her breed of rabbits at the Putnam County Fair and advancing to the best rabbit competition Monday. Instead, across those same fairgrounds, I saw a handful of local politicians talk about the importance of the fair was and how much they appreciated agriculture. I took a decent picture of the bell-ringing ceremony. That story and the picture appeared in Tuesday’s newspaper.
Tuesday also would’ve been the day former Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos sent this text message to a reporter for the Observer website: “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” (He later said he was joking with “troll” reporters.)
On Thursday, 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos allegedly walked into the office of the Annapolis (Md.) newspaper, The Capital Gazette, and killed five journalists and wounded two others. He reportedly held a grudge ever since the newspaper wrote about his conviction on a harassment charge.
Somewhere in between, I took a few calls alternating between telling me I should be ashamed, fired or dead for my role in the media. (Keep in mind, my “real job” here is planning our coverage of news and events, not just offering my insights of life in northwest Ohio on Sundays.)
The media is under attack, both at the national and local level. We’re accused of being liars and cheats. We’re obviously in the pocket of someone rich and famous. We’re un-American jerks spewing “fake news.”
How’s this for fake news? I stopped writing this column for about an hour and a half Saturday. I used that time to cook hamburgers on the grill and set up a backyard pool. I sprayed my children and my niece’s daughter with a hose a few times, to their delight. Later this week, we look forward to enjoying some fireworks. How un-American of us!
This is the reality from each of the six newsrooms where I’ve worked: There are completely ordinary Americans using open records laws available to everyone to tell you what’s happening in your community, region, state, country and world.
They miss important moments in the lives of those they love. They work too long and too hard for about what an area factory worker makes. They take vast amounts of abuse from readers and sources alike. Some even cry when they wonder if this is what they studied to do.
The free press was such an important issue to the Founding Fathers they included it in the First Amendment (of which a copy hangs in my office). Freedom of the press is right there with freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble. Those are the cornerstones of our democracy.
I’ve taken about a half-dozen death threats over my career, plus plenty more calls to have me fired for a decision I’ve made. Fortunately, I’ve never seen vigilante squads. I pray Thursday’s unnecessary deaths will put things into perspective for anyone planning on doing something similar. We won’t be threatened or scared from identifying the ills of our community and society, though.
Strangely enough, our newsroom staff spent about an hour Wednesday afternoon in a regular meeting. This time around, we focused on identifying the kinds of stories we’ve learned over the years that matter to our readers, notably stories about crime, taxes and personalities. I feel even more emboldened on that after Thursday’s unnecessary bloodshed.
The press, particularly local operations like ours or The Capital Gazette, only serve as a mirror on your community. All too often, we take the brunt of it when people get caught at their worst doing the worst things possible. I tell reporters these people aren’t mad at the reporter; they’re mad at the situation. We’re accused of being one-sided when most of the time only one side wants to explain what happened, and the other side cursed us out.
We love our democracy so much, we’ll risk our lives to preserve it. We’ll keep doing it, every day, for a public that doesn’t always appreciate it.