To fellow journalists; stay strong and steady
By Ian Cobb
I don’t know where to begin.
I’m not normally lost for words. An Irish Viking, I usually just bash forward unflinchingly when it comes to sharing op-ed opinion. Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!
But these days, thanks to the screeching, numbing volume of noise from social media, I have grown more and more reticent to share opinion for the simple sake of my blood pressure.
I write columns and then throw them away. I bet I’ve trashed more than 50,000 words in the last month alone.
They generally tend to flow in the same direction, fuelled by the same emotions; anger, frustration, exasperation, disgust and far too many urges to wade into peoples’ faces hissing “I’m your huckleberry.”
I have always tried to write with a twist of humour, when it calls for it, and I have no humour these days. Much less after what happened June 28 in Annapolis, Maryland.
The latest incident in the ceaseless parade of senseless gun violence in America hit closer to home than it has in a long time, when five newspaper people were murdered in a savage, terrifying few moments by a psychopath who had a beef with the Capital Gazette, which has a history serving its community dating back to 1884.
Rob Hiaasen, 59; Gerald Fischman, 61; Wendi Winters, 65; John McNamara, 56; and Rebecca Smith, 34, were killed in an attack by Jarrod Warren Ramos, 38, who has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.
Ramos apparently had an ongoing snit with the Capital Gazette, which began in July 2011, after the paper published a column about a criminal harassment case in which he was involved. He unsuccessfully sued the paper for defamation.
Clearly one of those ‘kinds’ of men who cannot take no for an answer, Ramos stewed over his defeat and, sadly, decided that mass murder was the only thing that could sate his unrewarded sense of privilege.
Hiaasen, Fischman, Winters and McNamara were seasoned journalists. Smith was a sales associate who had the misfortune of working near the front door.
According to Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook: “There were 11 people in the Capital Gazette’s newsroom Thursday. Five were killed. Six other newsroom employees were on vacation, out of the office or done with work for the day. Advertising representatives were in Baltimore for a meeting.”
I have found myself thinking of the various newspaper offices I’ve worked in or have been associated with and cannot help placing all of us in Maryland.
I’ve been seeing the faces of everyone I’ve worked with the past three decades and am left heartbroken for the deceased, the survivors and the people of Annapolis. It is difficult not to superimpose one’s life over an incident like this when it could quite literally happen to any newspaper, anywhere.
Every journalist who is doing his or her job properly ends up ticking people off on a fairly regular basis. Most of the time it is people who have done lousy, vicious or corrupt things, or they are politicians or bureaucrats in need of some good old-fashioned oversight.
Court and crime reporters are routinely threatened.
On the flip side, reporters doing his or her jobs provide levels of support and relief for people being ‘screwed by the man.’ Yet none of that seems to matter to a great many people nowadays, more so in America, but in Canada as well – with more people venting hatred toward journalists than ever before thanks to a trend established by the biggest manipulator and BS artist in the world – Donald Trump.
Certainly, some journalists deserve scorn because they are sellouts – whether to the left or right – but for the most part, the people working in your community newspapers, radio and TV stations and online news products are earnest, caring people who work for crummy pay and have lousier hours.
And now the pro Trump/pro keep things the same ‘in this man’s world’ (such as misogyny, racism etc.) types will begin yowling: “Trump had nothing to do with this! Libtard (drool, wipe, drool).”
Trump has a great deal to do with this. One of his first acts on his way to soiling the once great office of President of the United States of America was to begin discrediting journalists. “Fake news” was funny at first; then it became surreal. Now it’s just flat out disheartening and, based on the Gazette shooting, worrisome as hateful animals are being emboldened by the person who should be leading America to safer places, not riling up the dangerous and rash.
A day before the shooting, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters who helped dupe millions of easily susceptible voters, Milo Yiannopoulos, declared he wishes “vigilante squads” would start shooting journalists.
A neo-Nazi, Yiannopoulos is the exact slab of bi-pedal excrement my mother and father’s generation suffered under and then defeated during the Second World War.
How this ilk has been allowed to rise and grow in America is that nation’s continuing shame. Hatred is the favourite vice for millions of Americans nowadays. It’s easier to just hate that what you don’t understand and memes are easier to read than books.
And don’t think for a second Canada, that we are without such people who hate before all else.
Some will surely make comments on social media to prove my point.
So now journalists the world over are pausing and thinking. Some might even be compelled to quit or temper their enthusiasm for the truth because exposing and sharing it serves to enflame haters more than educate them, as it used to do.
I ask my fellow journalists to do the exact opposite. The majority of the people in the USA and Canada are good people.
A select fringe realm of hateful wretches who would re-instate a controlled state fuelled by all that is wrong with the human species is seeking to gain control. They have a president who backs their nefarious agendas and they are emboldened.
But we must remain strong; we must remain professional and earnest; we must remain fair and balanced and we must remain committed to our profession and craft and work harder to expose the lies, lift the veils from the faces of the corrupt, the haters and manipulators and not flinch.
The five people who died in Maryland and the 12 people who died at Charlie Hebdo; the other journalists who die every year in order to uncover the truth are heroes in the war against freedom.
Freedom isn’t good for business anymore; ask Trump, and ISIS.
The best way to leave this is in the words of Gazette reporter and shooting survivor Selene San Felice who told CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I’m going to need more than a couple days of news coverage and some thoughts and prayers because our whole lives have been shattered.”
Afterward, social media slimebags tweeted to her that she should have died in the attack.
Let that sit in your head for a second.
And then stand up and raise a fist with a pen or pencil in it and vow to not let hatred and anger alter you from your course or doing the best job you can.
Our communities need us to show them that truth and balance remain our anchor points. And we need to show them that the pen remains mightier than the sword.
Our society needs us to show them we won’t be frightened off or dismissed as “fake” by the most insincere, disingenuous and terminally hateful sect of humans to come along in North America since the dying days of slavery.
Jarrod Warren Ramos may have had a prior problem with the Gazette but he was inspired by the Trump/Milo Yiannopoulos alt-right haters to act.
Journalists by nature and essence of the job are rarely easily frightened people.
Do not let haters scare you; we are all one and we all stand together and right always prevails, as reported by you, my fellow journalists. In honour of Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith do your jobs to the best of your abilities and stick to it. Ditch the clickbait crap and get back to showcasing the truth and nothing but the truth.
And corporate ownerships/boards of directors – give your journalists the backing you once provided when stories became deep, tangled and disturbing and quit kowtowing to advertisers, who also want their newspapers and media to be as best as it can be.
The cries of “fake news” will subside from the effort and fade away with history as haters are the weakest and laziest of humans. Once they realize the going is too difficult, they’ll shut up and head back under their bridges.
– Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW