By Jeffrey Davis
The mass murder inside The Capital’s newsroom really hit home. At first I felt the typical shock and horror that is getting way too routine. But in a few short hours, with friends calling and emailing (yes, I knew some of the victims) the rush of memories and emotions got to me.
I was a Capital reporter many years ago and if it impacted me, decades removed but still emotionally tied to the paper, I cannot imagine what it is like for the staff as well as the families and friends of Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. But it was real:
“I watched John McNamara die. I had to step over Wendi Winters to escape. I said “f—” on CNN,” Capital reporter Selene San Felice shared in the paper two days later. “If you’re upset about the expletive and not that someone killed almost every editor at The Capital — five people who were deeply loved and irreplaceable — you are not an American.”
The tragedy brought the Capital “alumni” (known as the Rolling Doughnut Society) closer and our email chains and a private Facebook page are buzzing.
The ups and downs and pressures you face in journalism cause reporters and editors to become extra close-knit, more than the typical office. The transient nature of the profession means you likely aren’t in a familiar city, so your colleagues become even closer – they’re with you for happy hours, on weekends, weddings and in times of need.
We didn’t have a large staff at The Capital, so we would send a single reporter to go up against competitors from The Washington Post, Washington Times, The Sun, The Evening Sun, The News-American as well as TV stations and radio stations from Annapolis, D.C. and Baltimore. The bigger papers would sometimes have 2-3 people listed on a story’s byline, but as Capital reporters we were on our own and expected to deliver the same quality of coverage plus that deeper Anne Arundel angle.
Succeeding at a small daily like The Capital that tells it like it is – well that’s not easy either. We had to be tough (and fast, fair and accurate) but it’s also a small community so the feedback in those pre-email days was intense and in your face. If not an angry phone call (pre-caller ID) it was a visitor in the lobby. There were some legendary all-out screaming events in that building, but a lunatic barging in with a shotgun? That was unthinkable.
We are all still processing this tragedy and wondering how we can help. What we can do? Rather than shake our heads, tweet “thoughts and prayers” and move on, here are three simple actions we can take right now:
Enough of this “Fake News” and “Enemy of the People” Crap
Looking at the shooter’s mugshot is disgusting, and so are the claims of “fake news.” It’s extremely disturbing when I see people mindlessly repeating those exact words and giving the finger to reporters at political rallies. There is nothing fake about journalism. From now on, I am not going to let those claims slide by without a challenge.
Buy the Paper. Read the Paper. Subscribe.
Journalism is not free to produce. Sure, you can come across news in your social media feeds and on the web, but take it a step further and pay what is a bargain price for all the work that goes into it. To this day, I read The Capital every morning through a digital subscription and will always do so. If Annapolis news isn’t for you, support the national media as well as your hometown paper. Be proud to pay for your news.
Help our Friends in Annapolis
The Capital Gazette Families Fund for the families, victims and survivors is being managed through the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County. The Michael and Jacky Ferro Family Foundation will match up to $1 million in donations. The fund has received a $100,000 donation from the Merrill Family Foundation, which was founded by the late Philip Merrill, the Capital Gazette’s former owner and publisher when I was there. A separate GoFundMe fundraiser set up by Washington journalist Madi Alexander is close to its original goal, raising more than $187,000. [Update: $198,738 of the $200,000 goal raised as of July, 7, 2018)]
The best advice comes from Selene San Felice, the reporter who stepped over her colleagues on that nasty Thursday afternoon:
“Stop brushing this off. Stop saying you’re going to pray for me. Pray for me, and then pass legislation that stops the mass murder of Americans. Pray for me, then vote for people who are serious about making a change. That starts with the general election in November.”
This is real. Do something.