Five newspaper people were killed yesterday at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. I can't imagine how brutal that must be for the families. I met one of the victims, Rob Hiaasen, a few times; he was the brother of my close friend Carl Hiaasen. From all accounts Rob was a fine journalist and a wonderful man. My heart aches for his family, for all the families.
My heart also aches, on this sad day, for the larger family of journalists, especially newspaper journalists. It's a family of which I still consider myself a member. I started in this business in 1971, as a rookie reporter at the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., for (if I recall correctly) $93 a week. Since then most of my friends have been newspaper people. No offense to any other profession, but these are, pound for pound, the smartest, funniest, most interested and most interesting people there are. They love what they do, and most of them do it for lousy pay, at a time when the economic situation of newspapers is precarious, and layoffs are common.
It's also a time when the news media are under attack — for being biased, for being elitist and out of touch with ordinary Americans, for not caring about the nation. And I'll grant that in some cases, some of these criticisms are valid. There are cable-TV "news" operations openly devoted to either propping up or tearing down Donald Trump. There are newspaper journalists who seem far more interested in getting on TV, and jacking up their Twitter numbers, than being fair or accurate. There are incompetent, dishonest people in this business, as in any business.
But these people are a minority — I think a tiny minority — of news people, especially of newspaper people. There are over 1,000 daily newspapers in the United States, most of them covering smaller markets, like Annapolis or West Chester. The people working for these newspapers aren't seeking fame, and they aren't pushing political agendas. They're covering the communities they live in — the city councils, the police and fire departments, the courts, the school boards, the high-school sports teams, the snake that some homeowner found in a toilet. These newspaper people work hard, in relative obscurity, for (it bears repeating) lousy pay. Sometimes, because of the stories they write, they face hostility; sometimes — this happens to many reporters; it happened to me — they are threatened.
But the news people I know are still passionate about what they do, and they do it remarkably well. And here's the corny-but-true part: They do it for you. Every time they write a story, they're hoping you'll read it, maybe learn something new, maybe smile, maybe get mad and want to do something.
That's what the people were doing at the Capital Gazette when they were shot. And the survivors, God bless them, put out a paper the next day. Because that's what we do in this business.
So criticize us all you want; when we screw up, feel free to call us on it.
But don't say we don't care.