I’ve started and stopped writing something about the mass shooting in Annapolis a few times now. It hits close to home for me, in that I have worked in several small newsrooms when I started my journalism career.
Working at a local, non-metro paper is a lot of things: it’s a rite of passage for young journalists; it’s a passion project for those who call these communities home. You don’t do it without learning a lot about the craft AND more about people and communities.
There’s been a lot of politicizing of the Press in the last few years. It goes beyond the President. Even before Mr. Tump rose, I would be asked—exclusively by self-identified conservative friends and acquaintances (that’s not an accusation, simply the truth)—about the political leanings of other journalists.
The honest truth is, I often didn’t know who colleagues voted for. Working in a newsroom, you do find out about each others’ values. From that, I could probably guess which way the other people leaned. But, in most cases, I wouldn’t presume to think I knew. More importantly, it didn’t much matter to me.
That’s a thing about journalists—we are expected to be impartial in our profession and so, we don’t trumpet our political affiliations. I have been an independent voter for almost three decades now (save one electoral season, and I wasn’t a newspaper journalist then) and I am now, even though there is no compelling reason—I am unemployed and my affiliation has no effect on any reporting I do. My wife asks why I don’t choose a side, so I can vote in primaries. But I am more comfortable as an independent. (And though I now lean left, I am not unfailingly partisan: I have voted for multiple presidential candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties.)
So I don’t appreciate the question. The troubling thing for me is the assumption that political affiliation supercedes everything else—that partisanship “leads” and other factors are subservient. Journalists I’ve spent time with don’t talk about our personal viewpoints regarding politics and politicians that much; it certainly wasn’t the most interesting thing about anyone I ever worked with. (Note: I’m not and never have been a political journalist, so I don’t claim to know what their late-night conversations look like. But I’d be surprised to find out that they are much different.)
As a journalist, and from my experience with other journalists, that isn’t where I/we start. We start with these 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why. We try to understand an issue or a person or a circumstance, so we can tell others about it. And when we find a good story—one that’s important for people to know about, which only a good journalist is going to be able to report and uncover—we throw ourselves at it.
I’d encourage you to read the bios of these five people at The Capital Gazette—Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith. (And think about how the hell the staff wrote these profiles about friends and colleagues who were alive and kicking just hours earlier.)
Every newsroom has its Rob, its John, its Wendi, its Gerald, its Rebecca. Every office does. In fact, they could be from the sitcom The Office.
They are nobody’s enemies.
I think about them and how gosh-darn American they are, and I think about this affiliation question, and I worry that partisanship is a virus that blinds us to the humanity of our fellow citizens, our fellow humans.
I think about how can I show up when I meet someone for the first time, or the hundredth time, without a preconceived story of who they are and what motivates them. How I can just be with them, listening to their story, understanding their values and motivations and concerns. I think, if I can do this, I will be a better friend, a better neighbor. I’ll be a better journalist and, honestly, that’s what I’ve always wanted to be through the now-long arc of my professional life.
So that is my intention, the devotion I want to offer at the altar of this tragedy. I want to meet my annoyance and frustration with curiosity and empathy—and without my judgments.
I’d be interested in how this mass shooting has affected you.