One was an “old-fashioned journalist,” another living out his dream as a sportswriter. There was a columnist, a reporter and a sales assistant. No matter their roles, these five people showed up to work each day at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, ready to churn out another newspaper.
A gunman, believed to be 38-year-old Jarrod M. Ramos, burst his way into the newsroom and began shooting. Four journalists — Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara — and sales assistant Rebecca Smith were killed. Two others, Rachael Pacella and Janel Cooley, were injured.
Of the four journalists, the youngest was 56-year-old McNamara, the sportswriter. When they began their respective paths in journalism years ago, the world was a different place. The newspaper was read cover to cover by most people, an honest account of the previous day’s happenings.
But along the way things changed. The internet exploded, creating less demand for newspapers, many of which lagged behind the times. Newsroom staffs were slashed because of budget cuts; workloads got heavier. Still, these four journalists — with decades of experience — carried on with their duties.
The Capital Gazette is like many small newspapers that employ dedicated reporters, editors and photographers. For many, there is no time clock, no 40-hour work week. It’s a job with a deadline that needs to be met every day. Journalists don’t get into this business to get rich, and they don’t do it for the accolades. These days, working for a small newspaper is a labor of love.
Not much is known about the suspected gunman. According to The Baltimore Sun, he burst into the newsroom by shooting his way through glass doors. People went scrambling, with one report saying an employee jumped over a dead body to escape. Ramos’ motive is believed to be a vendetta he held against the paper for a 2011 article involving a criminal harassment charge against him.
In 2012, Ramos filed a defamation suit against the paper, which made its way to the state Supreme Court. A ruling in 2015 was upheld in favor of the newspaper.
“I remember telling our attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us,’” said Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former editor and publisher, who was named as one of the defendants.
That’s beyond frightening, to think that simply because a journalist was doing his or her job, reporting the news, a gunman would enter the building and start shooting whoever is in sight.
There is a certain stigma surrounding newspaper reporters. They are criticized for what appears in the pages and, at times, dehumanized. They’re not out to “ruin lives.” They simply present the facts and allow readers to form an opinion based on those facts.
Perhaps the most incredible part of Thursday’s tragedy is the fact the Capital Gazette published an edition on Friday. “5 shot dead at the Capital,” a banner headline read, with pictures of those killed. That front page serves as a reminder of the grit, determination and professionalism of journalists at a small newspaper — reporters writing through tears after watching five of their colleagues get gunned down, but still knowing the job must be done.
This isn’t written to rail against gun control — though it was reported by the Associated Press that the gun used was purchased legally — or President Donald Trump’s continuous attacks on the media.
This is written to champion the fine journalists at local newspapers across the country with small staffs — which are getting smaller and smaller every day — who believe they are doing their part to inform their community. Employees at the Capital Gazette felt they were doing that in a safe environment.
A version of this editorial first appeared in The Newport Daily News.