Danielle Ohl: I want to tell you a story about Capital Gazette

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Dear reader,

I want to tell you a story.

A few stories, really. I hope you’ll forgive me.

When I interviewed at The Capital last year, I sat in Rick Hutzell’s office in a chair across from him and Rob Hiaasen. They asked me about what I’d been working on at The Baltimore Sun, where I interned during summer 2017.

I described my reporting on a newborn giraffe named Julius, struggling to live because he couldn’t properly eat.

Rob, who would become my editor, mentor and dear friend, asked me why I thought the story was important. I went on about how rare newborn animals are, the costs of the treatment, and the herculean efforts zoo staff undertook to give Julius plasma transfusions. Like some sort of news robot.

Rob shook his head. “No, but why do people care? Why do people connect with this giraffe?”

It was a good question. Hard. The kind Rob was always asking in the months to come. I paused. I answered. It doesn’t really matter what the answer was.

Because you see, Rob wouldn’t have cared either. He just wanted you to think deeply, critically and empathetically. He wanted you to write like a human. Like he was.

Wendi Winters knew everything. I’m not kidding.

She spent her days in people’s homes, carefully noting their treasures. She interviewed high schoolers like they were celebrities. She found the places people weren’t supposed to go and went anyway.

When I started writing about the Naval Academy a few weeks ago, she overheard me talking to another editor about a tour of the campus.

When I walked out of his office, she stopped me.

“You’re taking a tour of the Naval Academy?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, when you get back, let me give you the real tour,” she said.

She was ready to do it that afternoon. I had a busy week and said we’d go after my vacation, which placed me out of the newsroom when Wendi charged the gunman who killed her and four of my friends on June 28. I’ll never get the real tour.

But I will try to spend my days noticing the quirks, the special, the subversive and the human, like Wendi did. Like she was.

I didn’t know John McNamara, Gerald Fischman and Rebecca Smith as well as I’d like to. John was a quintessential newspaperman, curmudgeonly but warm, ready to share a war story from back in the day. Gerald was the best writer I have ever had the privilege to know. Rebecca battled fiercely in her personal life and never once let it falter her kindness.

So why am I talking about all this? Other people have already done it. Probably better than I can.

A lot of people want us, the survivors and the Capital Gazette staff, to be the story. I get that. In a way, we are, and it’s out of our control. Others want to demonize us. Show that we had it coming, or that we’re using this as an opportunity to bash the president, or that we could have avoided this. I don’t get those characterizations. I probably never will.

But I’m writing because I want you to remember that Rob, Wendi, John, Gerald and Rebecca — to borrow a colleague’s characterization — were good people. They were human.

I do have two asks of you, if you’ve made it this far.

First, please, read about Rob, Wendi, John, Gerald and Rebecca. Remember them for their lives and their work, not their end.

Second, support your local newspaper. There’s been a lot of talk indicating that the job Rob, Wendi, John, Gerald and Rebecca got up to do every morning is worthless, the work of liars. I’ve seen family members and strangers alike posting about how they hate journalists and speculating that we love mass shootings.

The people who died on June 28 worked long hours and were paid little. Some of them drove an hour to the office just because they loved journalism and they cared to report about our Annapolis community more than they cared about themselves.

They covered school dances and municipal meetings. They wrote witty columns and tried to parse the hard stuff to give people a new perspective.

They weren't enemies. They weren't fake. They were human.

They tried their damnedest to do right by the people who read The Capital every day.

For the rest of my life, I will try to do right by them.

All my love,

Danielle

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