After watching the news in real time on Thursday about the deadly shooting of five employees of The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD, a sad shudder shivered through my spine.
Dead reporters. In the United States of America. One of them, John McNamara, was a sportswriter.
I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've done for more than 40 years, for more than two-thirds of my life on this planet. I can't imagine going to work one day, wondering if I can still make deadline if the American Legion baseball game I'm covering goes into extra innings, only to end up murdered at my keyboard because some psychopath had a grudge against my workplace.
As a result of my job, I've gotten to know a lot of sportswriters over the years. Many are my friends. I didn't know John (who covered the University of Maryland), but maybe we were on press row together covering an ACC Tournament years ago. Maybe we sat side by side in a postgame interview, or bumped shoulders loading up on potato salad and barbecue during the pregame buffet. Who knows? I kind of hope maybe we did. I hope I crossed his path.
Dead reporters. It's part of a sorry refrain now: dead reporters, dead students, dead theater patrons, dead church-goers.
Because the gunman (armed with smoke grenades? How does that happen?) was carrying out his own warped sense of justice, it's unlikely the killings were politically motivated. But maybe he felt he had license to kill: After all, we're told over and over again, the news is fake. The press is the enemy of the people.
Listen, the news is not fake (unless we're talking about those tabloids at the checkout lane telling us about aliens from Mars impregnating Bigfoot). Most news gathering organizations utilize lawyers, ombudsmen and time-proven policy before – and sometimes after – publication to strive for accuracy. Does the media get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. Journalism is a human endeavor with all the imperfection that implies.
If you believe the news is fake, it's probably because you don't agree with the view of the truth being offered. That's OK. But that doesn't mean the news is fake. It just means you don't agree with it. There's a difference.
A good way to tell if the news is fake is if it involves Martians and Bigfoot. I'm serious.
And the press is not the enemy of the people. It says so in the First Amendment of The Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of the press – which, by the way, was written by the people, for the people.
Which also explains why, even while mourning our slain brothers and sisters in journalism, "We're putting out a damn paper tomorrow." (Quote from Chris Cook, reporter for The Capital Gazette, on the day of the shootings).