We honor the fallen by do­ing our jobs

Record Observer - - Opinion - By BRIAN KAREM

Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, com­mu­nity newspapers in the em­bry­onic coun­try bound cit­i­zens to­gether with provoca­tive editorials and news of the day as cit­i­zens rose up to break free of the tyranny of a king. Many newspapers pub­lished the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and helped to pop­u­lar­ize the found­ing prin­ci­ples of our nascent coun­try.

The Tories saw the news as di­vi­sive and slanted.

The Pa­tri­ots pro­claimed free­dom of speech against despotic rule.

Dur­ing the Civil War, com­mu­nity newspapers in a di­vi­sive coun­try kept track of the dead, the bat­tles and helped in­form cit­i­zens with editorials and news of­ten seen as opin­ion­ated and slanted.

Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, com­mu­nity newspapers told of boys go­ing to war and men com­ing home bro­ken or in coffins. The na­tion fought over the value of the news. Some con­sid­ered it anti-es­tab­lish­ment. Some saw it as grass­roots re­port­ing.

Through­out our his­tory, com­mu­nity newspapers have been the back­bone of jour­nal­ism and a cor­ner­stone to our repub­lic even as some have as­sailed the re­port­ing.

Sewer rates. PTA meet­ings. High school and com­mu­nity sports. Pic­tures of our kids play­ing those sports. County fairs. State leg­is­la­tures. County coun­cils. In­fra­struc­ture. Taxes. All of those sto­ries and more adorn the pages of your typ­i­cal com­mu­nity news­pa­per as do the pub­lic no­tices let­ting you know when and where there is a govern­ment meet­ing to at­tend.

What proud par­ent, upon see­ing their prog­eny on the page of a news­pa­per hasn’t cut that pic­ture out and hung that photo with a mag­net on a re­frig­er­a­tor or put it away in a photo al­bum?

This work is brought to you by civic-minded in­di­vid­u­als who toil away for longer and for far less money than their tele­vi­sion re­port­ing cousins.

As first tele­vi­sion and then the in­ter­net have in­un­dated the con­sumer news mar­ket, the com­mu­nity news­pa­per has chugged along — adapt­ing to the com­puter age while do­ing the job with fewer peo­ple and less money as ad­ver­tis­ers have steadily aban­doned these newspapers for on­line click-bait.

Though squeezed hard by mar­ket forces, the back­bone still sur­vives.

On Thurs­day, June 28, five peo­ple in An­napo­lis, work­ing for the Cap­i­tal Gazette, one of Mary­land’s old­est and most ven­er­ated com­mu­nity newspapers, un­want­edly gave the last full mea­sure of their life try­ing to do their jobs.

Re­becca Smith worked to bring ad­ver­tis­ing and money into the pa­per. Wendi Win­ters, Robert Hi­aasen, John McNa­mara and Gerald Fis­chman were senior mem­bers of the staff who wrote, edited and men­tored young ta­lent and, like ev­ery­one else in­volved in com­mu­nity newspapers, served any num­ber of func­tions to help pro­duce a news­pa­per to bet­ter in­form mem­bers of their own com­mu­nity. They did not take this job lightly. They did not ask for ac­co­lades. They did their job. They are you and me. They were.

A dis­grun­tled reader tar­geted the edi­tors to die for per­ceived slights.

Each day, com­mu­nity newspapers deal with those who don’t like cov­er­age or are up­set with as­pects of­ten mi­nor about the de­tails of a story that has been re­ported.

All of this is part of the edi­to­rial process. Edi­tors have to de­cide whether or not to is­sue corrections, and some­times they ex­plain the edi­to­rial process to those who will lis­ten. They are re­spon­si­ble to their con­science, their read­ers and the own­ers to keep things as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble and present the most ac­cu­rate ver­sion of the story avail­able by dead­line. It is a uni­ver­sal mantra in com­mu­nity jour­nal­ism.

Though ques­tions al­ways rise as to the ve­rac­ity of the news re­ported in our com­mu­nity newspapers, the ex­treme ar­gu­ments of bias raised at the na­tional level have for the most part not touched this world.

This is be­cause most of the re­porters and edi­tors not only work in the com­mu­nity but live in the com­mu­nity. They raise their chil­dren there. They shop, go to school, church and dine out in the same com­mu­nity they cover for their newspapers.

The high school coach knows them. The lo­cal coun­cil mem­bers have all seen the re­porters toil­ing away long into the night at the same meet­ings in which the coun­cil mem­bers are trapped. Those re­porters have eaten the same ques­tion­able fin­ger foods at lo­cal po­lit­i­cal events as ev­ery­one else and washed it down with the same flat soda.

There used to be fewer cries of “Fake Me­dia” or call­ing re­porters the en­emy of the peo­ple be­cause at the lo­cal level it is all too ob­serv­able that the re­porters are peo­ple the same as ev­ery­one else. That has changed.

There is but one per­son re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing the lives of our col­leagues and friends at the Cap­i­tal Gazette — the man who pulled the trig­ger. But the vitriol lev­eled at re­porters ev­ery­where can­not be ig­nored. It is in­her­ently more dan­ger­ous to be a re­porter at ev­ery level to­day. We will not shy away from our job.

Those who died in An­napo­lis de­serve that much. They did their job. We will serve their mem­ory best by con­tin­u­ing to do ours and re­mem­ber­ing those we’ve lost.

All five of the dead worked hard to pro­duce and keep alive an award­win­ning, long stand­ing com­mu­nity news­pa­per ded­i­cated to pro­duc­ing facts to bet­ter in­form and make bet­ter the cit­i­zens of its com­mu­nity.

In a very real way these peo­ple rep­re­sent all of us in our ex­tended jour­nal­is­tic com­mu­nity, from the small­est weekly news­pa­per to the largest daily; from the small­est ra­dio sta­tion to the largest tele­vi­sion net­work.

We are all in this to­gether. We are the peo­ple.

Brian Karem is the vice pres­i­dent of the Mary­land-Delaware-DC Press As­so­ci­a­tion (MDDC) an­dex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of The Sen­tinel newspapers.

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