In Carroll County we have a particularly rich history and tradition of newspapers serving as a critical building block in the foundation of what we know today as our community.
Local newspapers are in our DNA and help glue together this collage that we call our community. Local newspapers sing our stories. The very beginning of Carroll County came as the result of the efforts of a journalist and his newspaper. Col. John K. Longwell, the Carroll County founding father lived from 1810 to 1896. When he was a young man, he learned the printing trade and in 1832 he published the "Maryland Recorder" in Taneytown. A year later he moved to Westminster where he established "The Carrolltonian,” at the age of 23, in 1833, and began to work earnestly for the creation of Carroll County in 1837.
Until 1961, I lived in the back of Samios Food Market at the corner of Washington Road and Green Street. One of the thrills of my day was to “help” the store owner Tass Samios, which included sitting around reading newspapers. I learned to read and write before the first grade so I could “write stories for Mr. Samios.”
The thrill has never waned.
One of my very first jobs I ever had was selling newspapers to the crowds who came to watch the Baltimore Colts practice at Western Maryland College. The Colts trained in Westminster from 1953-1971.
I’m not sure how successful I was. I was usually more preoccupied with reading the Baltimore Sun from front to back instead of hawking the paper. As the details of the senseless murder of five employees of the Capital Gazette unfolded Thursday afternoon, June 28 — it hit home for several reasons. Of all the ironies, that day was my 14th anniversary of writing for the Baltimore Sun Media Group — since June 28, 2004.
It was a long day. Tom Marquardt, the former editor and publisher of Capital Gazette Communications, said it best the other day in The Washington Post, “Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Wendi Winters were journalists who survived layoffs, newspaper ownership changes, declining readership. … But none of them, nor Rebecca Smith, a 34-year-old sales associate … could survive the barrel of a gun.”
The world of journalism is a small world. In one way or another, we all know each other. Of the five, Gerald Fischman had a local connection. He was an editorial page editor for the Carroll County Times in the 1980s. He worked at the paper with several good friends.
One of those friends got in touch as the events unfolded and reminded me that he covered my work in the community in those days. I certainly did not know him well, but knowing him put a face on this tragedy. I worked on several environmental initiatives in the 1980s for county and state government.
In his capacity as a reporter and an editorial writer, he covered my work. He was a good guy who always got it right. Some of the initiatives that I worked on in those days were not really popular. Some of the public hearings and letters to the editor were difficult, but Mr. Fischman was always fair, meticulous, patient, and accessible – if not indeed supportive.
His approach helped shape my worldview of working as a journalist to this day. Fast-forward years later and now I am on the other side of the reporter’s notebook. Just like several colleagues who messaged me the day of the tragedy, “I don't know a single journalist … who hasn't had direct threats of violence.”
I know I have. For the most part, we do not talk about it. Most of our friends and family have no interest in discussing it. We honor a code that says we do not talk about it. We share that code with EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers. They get it.
I guess since I served in the Marines, covered cops, courts, and crime for the newspaper, and serve as a volunteer fire and police chaplain, I have experienced a few too many deaths over the years. People think I deal with it well. I do not. I’ve just learned to hide it better and better. I just don’t talk about it.
Tragedies always seem to happen “somewhere else.” They appear as sanitized events rich in soulless statistics. But not this tragedy. It was close to home and it was personal.
The Capital Gazette killings are another huge loss to civility, in a long line of senseless deaths that tears at the very fabric of our society.
The day after the murders, the Courier Express carried a CNN article by Joel Simon, “Capital Gazette killings reveal harrowing reality for local journalists.” “These murders highlight another important reality, which has been true in the US and around the world: local journalists are especially vulnerable to violence and are often targeted from within the communities they cover…”
I will leave you with one statistic, according to the CNN article, “the US is now the third deadliest country for journalists in 2018, behind only Afghanistan … and Syria…” Think about that for a minute.
We must do better. One of the journalists at the Gazette when the gunman murdered five of her co-workers, Selene San Felice, wrote the other day in the Capital Gazette: “This is America. Do something about it… I watched John McNamara die. I had to step over Wendi Winters to escape. I said [a four-letter expletive] on CNN. If you’re upset about the expletive and not that someone killed five people [at The Capital] who were deeply loved and irreplaceable … we must do better. …”
Today as folks attempt to make this senseless tragedy into a political commodity, I guess I am not up for any of the vigils and political opportunism. I could not agree with San Felice more when she wrote, “If your help ends at thoughts and prayers, I don’t want them. What I want is action.”