Photos of five journalists adorn candles during a vigil across the street from where they were slain in their newsroom in Annapolis, Md., Friday, June 29, 2018. Prosecutors say Jarrod W. Ramos opened fire Thursday in the Capital Gazette newsroom. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
As a newspaper, we serve as a de-facto public forum. We encourage civil debate and a healthy skepticism. This also holds true for our opinions and editorials. While not presented as fact, it is an expression of free speech, and we have to allow others to express themselves similarly.
On Thursday, June 28, at approximately 2:33 p.m., Jarrod W. Ramos entered the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland with a pump-action shotgun, the back door barricaded ahead of time to prevent escape.
Ramos murdered Rob Hiassen, 59, assistant editor and columnist and former feature writer for the Baltimore Sun; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who, according to the Baltimore Sun, was a prolific writer who chronicled her community; Gerald Fishman, 61, an editorial page editor with a clever and quirky writing voice; John McNamara, 56, who got to live his dream job of reporting sports at the high school, college and professional level; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant who was hired on in November--long before 2011, when the Capital Gazette columnist wrote about a misdemeanor harassment charge, using public documents that anyone could have obtained.
However, 38-year-old Ramos filed an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against the Gazette for printing the column and for years continued to harass the newspaper, escalating as time went on.
In the background of that lawsuit was harassment by Ramos, with threats continually escalating until the events of last Thursday.
At the time of the shooting, the columnist and editor named in Ramos’ lawsuit were no longer employed by the Gazette. There were, however, 11 staffers present when Ramos entered the office. Police responded within a minute of the shooting, where they found the five dead--and Ramos hiding under a desk. He would not comply with law enforcement, who had to resort to facial recognition software to identify him. He faces five counts of first-degree murder.
Two other staffers were injured but were treated and released.
On Thursday at 2:33 p.m., we joined newsrooms all over the country in on our own clumsy moment of silence in memory of the victims of the shooting at the Capital Gazette. We set a notification on Google Calendar and invited people around the office to participate. At 2:33 p.m., our desktops dinged. I had set it to take place for three minutes, although I should have done five minutes for each victim. Even in that too-short time, it was sobering. I didn’t know that five people could make so much silence.
There would never be enough space to acquaint you with the people who lost their lives for doing their jobs, to make you see that they were, in fact, people. You are free to provide us with endless proof that reporters make mistakes, and sometimes, are not great at their jobs--though most try to be. It would, however, be pointless. People already know.
While the events in Annapolis may have seemed shocking to some, for reporters, it was a long-simmering nightmare come true. It was just a matter of where it would take place.
The point of my argument--the point readers should have gleaned from our publisher, Chris Pruett’s, column--the point that journalists may unknowingly try to express when they write about Annapolis, is that we are afraid for our lives. No amount of rigorous fact-checking will protect us, no tedious word-for-word match to ensure two political ideologies are given the same amount of space will keep a reporter from becoming a target. Stop acting like this is an issue of journalistic integrity because it is an issue of the human heart.
Ramos decided that his feelings--and whatever “violence” the Capital Gazette committed against his reputation--was worth more than the human lives he took last week.
Even if the Gazette had gone out of its way to slander Ramos, it would not have justified the five real, dead bodies that Ramos left in the wake of his rampage.
Hurt feelings, and even challenged beliefs, are not equal to dead bodies.
In an editorial following the shooting, Capital staff said they received further death threats and emails celebrating the shooting.
When I first heard about the shooting, I was angry. Everything I saw made me angry. The way many people reacted, in general, made me angry. For every one person who mourned for the slain journalists, it seemed, ten more tried to justify the shooting.
As with all discussions, sometimes people miss the point.
When Chris posted his column, for every one person who agreed, three more asked why the media couldn’t just be honest. They tried their best to argue their point--a point never challenged by Chris’ column.
I’ll try not to mince words. Journalists shouldn’t be killed for doing their job.
I’m not saying that by disagreeing with any one thing I said that you are disagreeing with my main argument--but for the love of God, tell me you at least agree with that.
Kristen Inman is a staff writer at the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached at Kristengcdw@gmail.com.