In the newspaper business, there’s always pressure — the pressure of deadlines, pressure to gather information quickly, to dig deep, to get it right and to disseminate it as fast as possible.
But there are also times in this industry when it’s necessary to slow down, to gather oneself and try to find just the right combination of words to express a complex series of thoughts.
The cold-blooded murders of five people at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD last Thursday created a situation that calls for both in equal measure.
For the news agencies tasked with reporting the terrible details — including the Gazette itself — that meant putting their emotions to one side, getting the facts straight and out to the public as quickly as they could.
Photos online showed Gazette reporters doing just that — working on Friday’s paper from the back of a pickup in a parking garage, hours after losing five coworkers in a senseless and brutal act of violence.
The next morning, the victims’ photos appeared above the headline on page 1; their stories told throughout the rest of the paper.
Rather than try to make any sense of the horrific act on its opinion page, however, the Gazette chose instead to simply list the names of their fallen colleagues along with a few lines of text. Among them: “Today, we are speechless.”
Days later, sitting here nearly 5,000 kms away, I’m having no more luck finding the right words.
I’ve been online, reading and researching, trying to collect the facts as they emerge about what exactly happened on Thursday and — in a decidedly more futile effort — why.
All of this matters, of course, but what I keep coming back to is the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of how it must have been for those reporters, salespeople and office staff as they hid under their desks, listening to the gunman reload and wondering whether he was coming for them next.
Thanks to a rapid response from police, the attack was over in a matter of minutes, but it must have felt like an eternity.
Like most people (I would hope) I’m filled with dread and despair every time there is a report of another mass shooting, whether it’s in a school, an office building or a mall.
For obvious reasons, though, this one has hit a little bit closer to home.
We get our share of angry phone calls and emails from people who are less than thrilled with some aspect of our coverage— not every week or even every month, but often enough.
It’s been a number of years since anyone has stormed through the front door of the Times office to vent their spleen, though it has happened during my tenure here.
Thankfully, nobody who has come to confront us face-to-face has been armed with anything more than angry words.
Were the unthinkable to happen, it’s difficult to say how any of us would respond. Would we be able to pick ourselves up and carry on with our jobs as impressively as they did last Thursday in Maryland? I certainly hope so.
But my greater hope is that I and all my colleagues in journalism — wherever they are working in the world — won’t ever have to find out.
That seems increasingly unlikely amid ever louder cries of ‘fake news,’ as far-right message boards fill up with (unsurprisingly) anonymous posts, lamenting the fact the death toll in Annapolis wasn’t far higher.
It’s a scary trend and one that creates its own unique set of pressures for a group of people who are trying to do nothing more than their jobs.