ELLENVILLE – Local newspapers are in a struggle for survival, beset as so many businesses are, by the ever-expanding uses of the internet. But their struggle took a different turn last week, when a 38-year-old man with a history of threats against a particular paper brought a shotgun and his hatred to the offices of the Annapolis Capital Gazette, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He killed five employees and wounded two more before police arrived — and they arrived very quickly — and took him into custody.
Sad to say, workplace shootings are just part of the new normal in the US. Most of them hardly break into the news cycle. It takes something unusual to do that, and the shootings at the Capital Gazette broke across the cycle in a way that shootings at factories and other office settings have not. Because, of course, they took place at a newspaper, and we are in one of those eras when many people, including our president, disparage the news.
But, let us all note that the news cycle at the Capital Gazette kept rolling. The paper tweeted in the grim aftermath: "Yes, we’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow," after their reporter Chase Cook was quoted saying those words. Of course, the office was now a crime scene overrun with detectives, so they moved operations to a space beneath a parking deck at a nearby mall. Reporter Pat Furgurson’s pickup truck became "the office" of the moment. Furgurson caught something of the poignancy of all this in America 2018, when he was quoted saying, "You think something like this might happen in Afghanistan, not in a newsroom a block away from the mall."
The editorial page was left blank, with just the names of the five killed: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters, and a sentence reaffirming the purpose of the paper — of any newspaper — promising that the editorial page would return "to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens."
The alleged gunman, Jarrod Ramos, was known and feared at the paper. He had sued the Capital Gazette after a 2011 article concerning his guilty plea in a harassment case involving a woman he’d known in high school.
The woman had subsequently fled the area and hidden herself, concerned that she would be killed by Ramos. He lost the suit and pursued vengeance by internet with a website and social media accounts that attacked the paper’s editor and the reporter who’d written about him as well as judges who had ruled against him. The police had been informed, but for whatever reasons they didn’t think he posed a serious threat.
As our faithful readers know, local newspapers work the mostly quiet stuff, the nuts and bolts of our communities. That means businesses opening or closing, graduations, victorious high school teams, planning board meetings, town boards, school boards, police hires and trainings, local celebrations — the events and people that shape our civic life.
The Gazette’s editor, Jimmy DeButts, put out a tweet: "Just know @capgaznews reporters & editors give all they have every day. There are no 40-hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community."
But, as this horrible event shows, we are not immune to the rage that flares here and there across the land. Ramos’ eventual alleged break into homicidal psychosis came after the figures he hated, the editor and reporter who he sued, had retired or moved on… he came in to kill a ghost.
But the survivors didn’t buckle at the knees. They got down to it and did their jobs, even while they were still in the adrenalin-fueled shock of living through the attack.
Working from a pickup truck in a parking garage, and their homes, they got the paper out the very next day. Their reporters were out covering the shooting story as it unfolded that evening. The paper’s photographer, Josh McKerrow, was editing photos on a laptop in the pickup truck. He was quoted: "It’s what our instinct was — to go back to work. It’s what our colleagues would have done."
There’s a lesson here: the haters and the crazies may do their worst… but they will not silence us.