By Brian Karem, Special to the AFRO
During the American Revolution community newspapers, in the embryonic country, bound citizens together with provocative editorials and news of the day as citizens rose up to break free of the tyranny of a King. Many newspapers published the Declaration of Independence and helped to popularize the founding principles of our nascent country.
The Tories saw the news as divisive and slanted.
The Patriots proclaimed freedom of speech against despotic rule.
During the Civil War community newspapers in a divisive country kept track of the dead, the battles and helped inform citizens with editorials and news often seen as opinionated and slanted.
During the Vietnam War community newspapers told of boys going to war and men coming home broken or in coffins. The nation fought over the value of the news. Some considered it anti-establishment. Some saw it as grassroots reporting.
Throughout our history community newspapers have been the backbone of journalism and a cornerstone to our republic even as some have assailed the reporting.
Sewer rates. PTA meetings. High School and community sports. Pictures of our kids playing those sports. County Fairs. State Legislatures. County Councils. Infrastructure. Taxes. All of those stories and more adorn the pages of your typical community newspaper as do the public notices letting you know when and where there is a government meeting to attend.
What proud parent, upon seeing their progeny on the page of a newspaper hasn’t cut that picture out and hung that photo with a magnet on a refrigerator or put it away in a photo album?
This work is brought to you by civic-minded individuals who toil away for longer and for far less money than their television reporting cousins.
As first television and then the Internet have inundated the consumer news market, the community newspaper has chugged along – adapting to the computer age while doing the job with fewer people and less money as advertisers have steadily abandoned these newspapers for online click-bait.
Though squeezed hard by market forces, the backbone still survives.
Thursday five people in Annapolis, working for the Capital Gazette, one of Maryland’s oldest and most venerated community newspapers, unwantedly gave the last full measure of their life trying to do their jobs.
Rebecca Smith worked to bring advertising and money into the paper. Wendi Winters, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara and Gerald Fischman were senior members of the staff who wrote, edited, mentored young talent and, like everyone else involved in community newspapers, served any number of functions to help produce a newspaper to better inform members of their own community. They did not take this job lightly. They did not ask for accolades. They did their job. They are you and me. They were.
A disgruntled and apparently mentally troubled reader targeted the editors to die for perceived slights.
Each day community newspapers deal with those who don’t like coverage, or are upset with aspects often minor about the details of a story that has been reported.
All of this is part of the editorial process. Editors have to decide whether or not to issue corrections and sometimes they explain the editorial process to those who will listen. They are responsible to their conscience, their readers and the owners to keep things as accurate as possible and present the most accurate version of the story available by deadline. It is a universal mantra in community journalism.
Though questions always rise as to the veracity of the news reported in our community newspapers, the extreme arguments of bias raised at the national level have for the most part not touched this world.
This is because most of the reporters and editors not only work in the community but live in the community. They raise their children there. They shop, go to school, church and dine out in the same community they cover for their newspapers.
The high school coach knows them. The local council members have all seen the reporters toiling away long into the night at the same meetings in which the council members are trapped. Those reporters have eaten the same questionable finger foods at local political events as everyone else and washed it down with the same flat soda.
There used to be fewer cries of “Fake Media” or calling reporters the enemy of the people because at the local level it is all too observable that the reporters are people the same as everyone else. That has changed.
There is but one person responsible for taking the lives of our colleagues and friends at the Capital Gazette – the man who pulled the trigger. But the vitriol leveled at reporters everywhere cannot be ignored. It is inherently more dangerous to be a reporter at every level today. We will not shy away from our job.
Those who died in Annapolis deserve that much. They did their job. We will serve their memory best by continuing to do ours and remembering those we’ve lost.
All five of the dead worked hard to produce and keep alive an award winning, long standing community newspaper dedicated to producing facts to better inform and make better the citizens of its community.
In a very real way these people represent all of us in our extended journalistic community, from the smallest weekly newspaper to the largest daily; from the smallest radio station to the largest television network.
We are all in this together. We are the people.
Brian Karem is the vice-president of the Maryland |Delaware | DC Press Association (MDDC) and the executive editor of The Sentinels.