Journalists are a little like doctors. Sometimes they have to give people bad news. The difference is there’s no arguing with a heart attack.
There’s more room for disagreement when it comes to the news, which is why during more than 40 years as a newspaper editor, I made some people angry from time to time. I didn’t mean to. But it would be a strange world indeed if everyone in the world agreed with me all the time.
Over time we began to worry that the emotional temperature among our readers was getting a bit too hot, and eventually, a new bullying tone began to appear. Some years ago conservative TV pundit Bill O’Reilly didn’t like something I wrote at the Rutland Herald, and he enlisted his viewers in a campaign of intimidation and harassment. That was new, and it wasn’t constructive.
Since that time, things have gotten worse, and sometimes we worried about people with guns. We shouldn’t have to think that way, but we knew newspapers weren’t immune from the same sort of violence that has afflicted others. Now it’s happened, not in Vermont, but in Annapolis, Maryland, where five staffers at the local paper were killed last month by a gunman with a vendetta. Tributes written about the five victims have described them as people who loved their community and worked to make it a better place.
Everybody has an opinion, and navigating those opinions respectfully, creatively and calmly is what the Capital Gazette in Annapolis does and what editors and reporters everywhere try to do every day.
So here is where I could lapse into harsh and bitter words about the way the press has been portrayed by our president, who has called the press the “enemy of the people.” He didn’t cause the shooting in Annapolis, but clearly he’s worsened the atmosphere within which the shooting took place. So how do we change that atmosphere?
It’s worth contemplating the essential role of papers like the Capital Gazette and the important contributions they make to their communities and to our democracy. Stoking anger leads nowhere but to more anger, and anger only leads in one direction.
As for the brave survivors in Annapolis, solidarity and love are what is called for. Senseless killings have touched all kinds of people in recent years, spreading fear everywhere, even in Vermont.
Solidarity and love — we all could use a bit of that.