Over the last year or so, I’ve often wondered what someone who isn’t a journalist thinks when their profession is repeatedly publicly ridiculed and vilified.
Law enforcement officers, lawyers and politicians would probably fall into that category. Those who work in these professions — and probably many others — as well as journalists have to have tough skins. They have to take criticism in stride and not let it stop them from doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.
For the most part, I’ve been able to keep moving forward in the face of criticism over the course of my journalism career, learning from my mistakes and taking steps to be a better writer and person. But when I heard about the shooting deaths of four journalists and a sales assistant in Annapolis, Maryland, by someone who didn’t like a story The Capital Gazette wrote about him, it shocked me.
Journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty before. But I had thought those were usually in cases where the reporters were in dangerous situations, where they knew the risks. These victims were just doing their jobs, unaware they were targeted for violence. Just like all other unfortunate and undeserving victims.
I remember the months and even years when I was at the office, just doing my job, without any security measures to protect me from someone out for vengeance. I don’t recall receiving any personal threats, but times have changed. I wonder if I were just starting my career now, would I be personally threatened?
I’ve talked to upset people, some after the loss of a loved one, and they weren’t always cooperative. But I like to think they realized I was doing my job. If there had been the current social unrest and political divisiveness we see in this country at that time, I’m not sure all those I talked to in such situations would react the same way.
I have no idea if the alleged gunman in Maryland was motivated in any way by what we see, hear and read today, but we have a president who seemingly likes to score “brownie points” for criticizing journalists, along with other professions.
It’s so easy to go after the public messenger when the message is something you disagree with or think is just plain wrong. If it’s factual, it’s not “fake news” or means the journalist(s) don’t know how to do their job just because there is another opinion on the subject. It certainly doesn’t mean they are “enemies of the people” or should be targeted for violence. Just as those working in the White House should not be singled out for public harassment that goes beyond the bounds of criticism allowed by free speech. That should apply to everyone else, too, including journalists.
Yes, there have been and are some in the journalism profession who act badly and harm others by doing so. There have been and are bad cops, lawyers and politicians and any other profession you can name. No one is perfect, but when some seem to act with a disregard for others, it stains everyone in that profession to some degree.
It’s sad we seem to be at a time when we don’t remember the “one bad apple” adage, or worse, don’t care. We are all different people, we don’t all think the same and most don’t have ulterior motives to harm others. Yet I hope our country and others will get beyond the seemingly endless need to act out our frustrations, or worse, prejudices.
I took heart in the fact the remaining journalists at the Capital Gazette still put out a paper the next morning, something that must have been a heartbreaking effort. I applaud their perseverance in the face of what were surely overwhelming emotions.
And I pray other journalists are never forced to do the same thing.