■BY MARCY SHORTUSE
Since the recent mass shooting at a newspaper office up north, I have seen some really callous and negative comments about the media in response to the tragedy.
“They’re all hacks. Who cares?”
“It’s all fake news anyway.”
Good to know community newspapers get so much support, right? After all, we’ve got Donald Trump whispering in our left ear and Bob Buker in our right. You’re right, every one of us is out to scam the five or 10 people who actually make it all the way through one of our locally sensitive articles.
Regionally focused newspapers are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, because most people now choose to have their news spoon-fed to them through the idiot box in their homes, or online. It is fast becoming a dying art to do hours of research on one story, and it is disheartening to put time into a long piece with numerous sources, only to have a story five paragraphs long and full of vagaries that a TV news announcer put together in 30 minutes go viral.
At a small-town newspaper we are afforded the “luxury” of spending more time on our stories, because there are often fewer hot topics on which to report. Be that as it may, we also know that waterskiing squirrels and flakka zombies would get more attention. And we also know that if the topic of the piece isn’t popular, the name on the byline is the one who gets the blame.
But we persist, because it is the right thing to do. Because it matters to us, even if the attention span of the average person only allows that person to skim maybe half the story. Because we care about our community. If you’d rather read (or watch) a story that pertains to your community from someone who has never been there or lived there before, that’s your choice. If you prefer the hyped-up national bandwagon over facts, that’s okay.
We will still be here as long as we have a paycheck, just trying to scratch the surface of truth.
Just try not to shoot the messenger.
I would like you to read an editorial published in the Siuslaw News, a newspaper from Florence, Oregon. A colleague of mine in Illinois is a friend of his, and she just so happened to post this. I know there are numerous friends of Carl Hiaasen on the island, and I am a fan myself. The particulars of this mass shooting spoke to many of us.
The words of the editor of the Siuslaw News, Ned Hickson, will echo with many.
One of our reporters here at Siuslaw News, wanting to offer condolences and support, made a late-night phone call Thursday to the Capital Gazette, which dutifully answered its phone at 2:30 a.m. Maryland time, “Newsroom.”
While shattered glass and the blood of fellow journalists was being cleaned up, members of the editorial staff at the Gazette were working dilligently to report the news and uphold their commitment to readers who depend on them for information about their community.
So, early this morning, less than 24 hours after a gunman killed four journalists and a sales assistant in its newsroom, today’s edition of the Gazette landed on people’s front porches and in newspaper stands around Annapolis.
Because it’s what journalists do.
Even at our small paper with a news staff of four and within a community as tightly knitt as ours, nearly each of us has received threats – veiled and not-so vield, anonymous and direct, physical and financial, through messages left on voicemails at work and at home – that came as a result of reporting we’ve done on controversial subjects or community forums we’ve held.
In a Facebook message this morning from a friend and past editor here at the Siuslaw News, she wrote, “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about every newsroom and editorial office I’ve ever been in and what it means to be in that line of work. The good and the bad. Because of the shootings in Maryland yesterday, I know this will be a hard day for you and the folks at the Snews …”
She’s right. And without question, Thursday’s tragic shootings have had a ripple effect through newsrooms everywhere that has culminated in a collectve moment of pause.
But only a pause.
Because, as I told her, the work of dedicated journalists in newsrooms large and small, in communities around our country, will continue – and must continue – despite what has evolved into a discernable tone of mistrust and, in some cases, outright hatred for journalists that has trickled down to even the smallest of community newspapers.
That being said, I still often work into the evening with my back to a large window facing the street, and I do so with little concern – because regardless of the occasional threat, I trust that the community we serve has our back.
Ultimately, the relationship between every newspaper and its readers – much like journalists and those who agree to speak with them off the record – is one built on trust.
Trusting to be fair.
Trusting to get it right.
Trusting to own up if it isn’t.
And trusting to protect one another through shared knowledge and being an informed community.
As I write this, I can hear each of our reporters typing away, preparing stories for this edition. At the same time, I know that each of them is thinking of the Gazette staff members who were lost – Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith – and dealing with that notion of loss in their own way.
This editorial is mine.
However, serving our community each day, and with each edition of this newspaper, is our way of dealing with the loss together.
Because it’s what we do.
Thank you, Ned, for letting us publish that.