EDITOR’S CORNER: Literally, nothing is sacred

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(Opinion by Miles Smith, LPR Editor)

Gerald Fischman.
Rob Hiaasen.
John McNamara.
Wendi Winters.
Rebecca Smith.
They were employees of the Capital Gazette, a suburban newspaper in Maryland, and each perished at the hands of a shooter who blasted his way through their building last week, ending their lives in a way these community newspaper employees likely never thought possible.
I’m no stranger to the stories of war zone journalists and breaking news writers for major metro news outlets who put themselves into harm’s way on a daily basis for the mere sake of making sure the general public is well informed. It’s a thankless job with low pay, long hours and hard work.
Community journalism is a different animal entirely. Your weekly newspaper is full of city council stories, commissioner’s court happenings, school district news, features on local folks and businesses, accounts of high school sporting events, pictures of your beloved children and the opinions of homegrown columnists.
But the job is not without risk of angering people. It’s not all puppy dogs and ice cream in the folds of a small town or community newspaper. Sometimes, a local official does something controversial or speaks out of turn. There are residents of a neighborhood who are vehemently against a planned housing development that’s up for approval. A man is irked that his neighbor wants to turn her land into an event venue.
Or a 38-year-old man is accused of harassing a woman on social media and a brave reporter takes the victim’s fight to print, leading to an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit from the accused that begins years of strife and threats that are frightening but seem like the hollow words of a hot-winded nut job.
Hollow, that is, until reporters are shot dead in their cubicles.
I’ve had my share of gripey callers and rabid readers who’ve called in to threaten my job, sworn to never read my paper again, demanded I print something different, or expect me to sit patiently and listen as they berate me and insult my intelligence. I’ve read ugly e-mails with words that easily fly off the fingertips of someone who’s likely drank up the courage to tell me off through the seemingly vast chasm of cyberspace.
But, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve seldom ever stopped to consider that, working at a community newspaper, I’d have to really deal with a crazed gunman coming in and shooting up me or my staff.
Jarrod W. Ramos has been charged with murder and is being held without bail. The courts will determine his fate — a fairer outcome than the reporters, editors and salespeople got last week.
My heart goes out to their families and their coworkers, whose lives and illusion of safety will never be the same. And I’m in awe of the professionals who pulled a paper together that night after witnessing the untimely deaths of their comrades.
There are some out there — seemingly more so, in recent years — who question the veracity of what journalists write and see them as the enemy.
Let me get something straight to anyone who thinks journalists are deserving of threats, cruelty, or vigilante justice for printing the news.
They have the right to print accurate news, even if it doesn’t paint you in a favorable light.
You have the right to be upset and to offer feedback to the writer or his editor.
You have the right to reason with the editor or writer. To plead your case.
And the editor or writer should take the time to listen to your concerns.
But no one deserves to die.
Cancel your subscription, if you must. Punish us with your pocketbooks.
Don’t cancel people’s lives.

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