The slaying of five staffers at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, sent a shockwave through the journalism community on Thursday, but the attack has struck deeply especially at smaller local publications, which tend to have a closer and sometimes more vulnerable relationship with the public.
On Friday, we asked a number of those newsrooms how they were responding to the mass shooting ― the latest in a string of deadly massacres but the first to specifically target journalists in the U.S. Most have revisited their security protocols, with some saying police officers would be assigned to their offices for the foreseeable future. One Maryland paper said it had given the day off to everyone except essential staff. A California news outlet said it plans to hold active-shooter drills in the coming weeks.
Organizational responses aside, one thing won’t be changing: Local reporters are going to keep reporting.
The following response, from Annie Granlund of the Owatonna People’s Press in Minnesota, keenly summarizes the feeling of precariousness in journalism at this moment. The heated rhetoric and threats don’t just affect mainstream outlets, the so-called fake news media that President Donald Trump rails against. Even in Owatonna, a town of around 25,000, there can be a palpable sense of antagonism toward the press, Granlund said.
“It feels about 50-50 in terms of how much we are liked,” Granlund told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of people out there who really love what we do and love talking to us and enjoy getting to know us. Then there’s other places where I will be out in public and someone will hear that I work for the paper and they’ll make a joke ― the ongoing joke in town is that we’re the ‘People’s Mess,’ instead of the ‘People’s Press.’”
Like many reporters, Granlund said she has also faced death threats for her reporting, though not since joining the People’s Press. Granlund said she’s not sure how a paper with just five editorial staffers and a circulation of about 11,000 would be able to respond to a serious threat.
Still, as Granlund makes clear below, many journalists are going to continue doing what they do best in the wake of Thursday’s tragedy: their jobs.
I saw your tweet about how small newsrooms, such as the one I work at in my small Minnesota town, are responding to yesterday’s vicious and heartless attack on the Capital Gazette in Maryland.
We are scared.
People who have publicly proclaimed the truth have long been at risk, and now more than ever we feel face to face with the question: “Is the truth worth some risk?”
We would love to demand security personnel. We would love to install safety measures to our buildings that allow us to better monitor those coming in and out on a daily basis. But we are small newsrooms, and that means we have small budgets. We can barely afford to pay ourselves a livable wage, let alone spend money on the building we work in.
The news of the shooting at Capital Gazette has been truly gutting. There is a lot I would like to do in response, but there is so little that can actually be done.
My only real weapon I can utilize in the aftermath of this tragedy is the tool I use to make a living every day: educating the public. So many out there do not understand what journalists do and who we are, so I simply want to try to teach them.
We don’t make much money and we work long hours, but we care about our readers and their community, and we want them to know what’s going on. The pursuit may seem somewhat altruistic, but not entirely. We’re behind you in line at the grocery store, beside you in the pew, and in front of you in the stands at little league games. We’re just normal people, and the news matters to us as much as to you.
We know we’re imperfect. Sometimes we have bias, sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes we just don’t live up to the ideals of what we do. But those ideals are so pure and so beautiful: to comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, spread knowledge, and challenge beliefs.
Most important, we are not the enemy of the people. We are the people. We are ready to listen and we are ready to be your voice.
Do you work in a small newsroom? How are you and your colleagues responding to the Capital Gazette shooting? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @nickpwing or send me an email at email@example.com.