At 1:33 p.m. Thursday, Newton Daily News staff members gathered in our newsroom for a moment of silence and private remembrance. We honored the request of the Baltimore Sun leadership who brought together newsrooms worldwide to honor the five victims of the Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, Md.
At 2:40 p.m. June 28, 38-year-old Jarrod W. Ramos opened fire in the Capital Gazette newsroom killing journalists Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara and sales assistant Rebecca Smith. According to news reports, Ramos had a long-standing vendetta against the newspaper. In 2012, he filed a defamation lawsuit against the Capital Gazette and a columnist over a July 2011 article that covered a criminal harassment charge against him.
Ramos now faces five counts of first-degree murder.
For our staff, the incident hits close to home. This shooting was clearly a calculated attack in retaliation for covering a news story — a basic part of our day at Newton Daily News.
Reporters in the Gazette newsroom were diving under desks and, while under gunfire, still doing their jobs. The Gazette public safety reporter used Twitter to keep the outside world updated on the news breaking just feet away from his work station. Others Tweeted out for help. This is an image many of us at the NDN went home and faced with our families later that night.
There have been 166 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2018, according to the nonprofit independent data collection firm Gun Violence Archive. Gun violence has claimed 7,429 lives in this country since Jan. 1 — 1,782 of those deaths were under the age of 18.
We could debate all day long the cause. Clearly, there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. that’s contributing to these shootings. Could universal background checks on firearm purchases, mandatory firearms training and age restrictions be part of the solution? Possibly. But one thing is clear — people who want to kill others in the U.S. have found a societal weakness and are exploiting it — it has to stop.
We have provided our staff with ALICE Institute active shooter response training through the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and, in light of the Capital shooting, will likely be doing again soon. Our industry organization — the Iowa Newspaper Association — is also putting together online training for newsrooms throughout the state, something that seems necessary in 2018.
The NDN, like the Capital Gazette, does not weave political bias into our news coverage. We segment commentary to the opinion page where it belongs, unlike programming on the county’s three biggest cable news networks which has contributed to the polarization and anger we see in the U.S. today. But, unfortunately, the “Fake News” stigma does and has trickled down to community newspapers.
We need leaders, especially those at the top of our government, to respect and support the role news outlets play in our democracy — whether taking a minute to express empathy for five people who were killed regardless of their profession, or not balking when asked to lower flags to half-staff as has been tradition for every other mass shooting before it.
We are a public service. Your local newspaper is not propaganda and it is not a megaphone for people in power. We keep you informed on what’s happening down the street — what is your city council doing about those potholes on your route to work? We detail the Fourth of July schedule or activities at the park. We are a community advocate, but we also take seriously our responsibility to shed light and hold those proven of wrong-doing accountable for their actions.
These newspaper employees were targeted for doing their jobs. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a newspaper office, concert, movie theater, nightclub or sending our children and grandchildren to a school, people have a right to feel and be safe.
The role of news organizations in our democracy is a vital part of making that safety possible. We will not be intimidated and will continue to print the news you need to know.
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