I had an idea early this week for my column and I did a lot of research on the subject to make sure I sounded somewhat informed. The topic at the time was still kind of a hot topic — the immigration rules and how things have changed in recent weeks with the separation of children and the parents and then President Trump making it stop.
I still had planned on writing that when things changed a bit on Thursday when the shooting at the newspaper in Annapolis, Md., occurred.
I was preparing for this week’s paper — which came out a bit earlier due to the Fourth of July holiday — when I got an alert about a shooting on my phone. I remember not putting a lot of attention toward it at first. I’m sure others who have signed up for alerts from other forms of media gets those updates a lot. School shootings. Office shootings. Nightclub shootings. After a while they all run together and unless I see it is somewhere close, I don’t usually read the story right away.
But after about 30 minutes I kept seeing information on the shooter pop up on Twitter and that is when I saw it happened at a newspaper. As many know, five people were killed, including four writers/editors of the small paper owned by the Baltimore Sun.
The more I read it and the more I had time to think about it, the more it made me aware of the world we are living in now. This one hit close to home. I’m not saying the others didn’t, but I can’t think of a time in all my years writing that I remember hearing or reading about someone coming into a paper and shooting.
The more I thought about it, I guess in a way, it is a blessing that something like this hasn’t happened before.
Being a writer puts you in perilous situations from time to time. You have to write about news sometimes you would rather not — like when a five year old dies in a car accident and the mother driving was legally drunk, as was the case in this week’s issue. Those stories are the hardest to write for me as a father because I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child at any age or stage.
Sometimes telling the truth, to some, is a hard pill to swallow and they hold resentment toward you for doing that. I spent most of my time writing being in sports, so for the most part outside of a few upset parents because I didn’t mention how good their son was as the sixth-man on a Class 1 basketball team or someone with a grudge about the ‘coaches all-state’ team, I haven’t had a lot of issues.
I have former co-workers and friends that haven’t been so lucky. My old boss in Neosho had his tires slashed. The same thing happened to a former college classmate of mine when he became the editor of a paper in Monett, Mo. Another member of the media I knew from Joplin, had someone show up to his house, knock on the door and then knock him out with a punch after he opened it.
The writer wrote about a local Sonic manager’s sexual assault charges and statutory rape charges filed by one of his former employees. So, writing about what was said in a court document, from a victim, was enough to enrage one man to add a few more charges to his already pending charges.
Makes sense, right?
It wasn’t too long ago I had a woman come into the office a couple times looking to talk with me. For whatever reason I was out of the office or out doing stories or something so I never got the chances to talk to her.
But after the second visit, I got her message delivered to me. She wasn’t happy that I wrote about her husband getting arrested on charges of stealing a vehicle and having drugs in the same vehicle.
I believe what I was relayed was roughly this: he is a good man that made a bad decision and I shouldn’t have made it worse by kicking his legs out from under him by making that public.
I didn’t pick this man out of a hat and decide to write about him. Each week we go through the court logs and we write about felonies and misdemeanors that are noteworthy — say a chairwoman of a local village allegedly pushes a pregnant woman down at a board meeting.
We essentially do what was done before me. We tell news. We write about crime. School board. Construction projects. New businesses. Provide the only sports coverage in the area on a consistent basis for the five schools: Platte County, West Platte, North Platte, Park Hill and Park Hill South.
We do it because we love the job. It’s not because of the pay or because we love working on holidays or weekends or night board meetings after an 8-hour shift. We do it because we live in the community. We share your stories and tell what is happening because we live near the towns and schools we cover. It is what community journalism is all about.
That is what the writers at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., did. It just happened one of the stories they wrote about happened to involve Jarrod Ramos, who sued because he didn’t like what they said. A court ruled against him and some three years later, he went to the paper that pointed out his actions on a harassment charge.
We aren’t out to get you or make you look bad if something bad happens.
We try to hold public officials accountable. We tell triumphs, tragedies, heartbreaks and about entrepreneurs opening up a business.
Community journalism is what makes most papers survive in a day where you see fewer and fewers papers. You have to reach your readers and you have to do your best to reach others who have only a passing interest or just assume everything is ‘fake news.’
What we do matters and we will keep doing it every day and you can read it all month for the price of a coffee or two.
Cody Thorn is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_CodyT.