Some people might cast journalists as villains, but we know that they aspire to be heroes.
As educators lucky enough to work with college-age reporters, photographers, copy-editors and other young idealists, we know that they’re seeking to make the world a better place.
When city officials lie to the citizens that they are supposed to serve or politicians lie to voters, journalists expose those wrongs. When parents find themselves struggling with medical bills for their sick children, journalists work to get the word out. When regular people perform acts of extraordinary kindness and heroism for others, journalists shine a light on them.
The journalists who work in newsrooms and radio stations and TV stations and independent online outlets are often the most principled people you’ll ever meet. Few people enter this poorly paid profession for reasons other than passion for the work.
Our hearts ache for the five Capital Gazette employees killed in last week’s shooting: Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist; John McNamara, 56, a writer, editor and page designer; Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant; and Wendi Winters, 65, an editor and community reporter.
Their killer, though devastating in his violence, was of a type that most journalists know. Most reporters could tell you of times that they have been threatened over published content. As college media advisers, we’ve counseled countless teenagers and young 20-somethings who have received threats to their personal welfare and well-being over accurate, newsworthy content that they’ve published. High school students often experience the same as they seek to learn a worthwhile craft and serve the public.
The case of the Capital Gazette shooter started much the same way. He complained of coverage in the newspaper. Then he sued the newspaper. And then he picked up a gun and ended five lives.
In the days since the shooting, our professional community of media advisers has been talking endlessly about “our kids”: these young idealists who, for the most part, only want to do good. The national conversation around journalism alternately pains us—how could we possibly see aspiring do-gooders as the enemy of the people?—and enheartens us as we witness our students and professionals carry out some of the most worthwhile acts of journalism that we’ve seen in a long while.
Among the bravest yet most ordinary and even, for us, expected acts was that the Capital Gazette journalists published a paper the day after the carnage in their very own newsroom. This speaks volumes to their grit and determination. And to their dedication to the work.
Journalists want to do good. We thank those at the Capital Gazette for continuing to do so, even in their grief. And we will hold you up as a shining example to the next generation of journalists.