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Marylanders of the Year: The Annapolis Capital Gazette staff

The Annapolis Capital Gazette has a bond with the community that dates to colonial times. Its coverage of events large and small, personal and public, joyous and tragic, day after day, year after year has made it an irreplaceable part of life in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Without it, the people of those communities would lose a link with one another and with the past that could never be replaced.

The reporters and photographers, editors, advertising salespeople, circulation managers and everyone else necessary to put out the paper (and, more recently, update the website) are part of that trust. The work has never been easy, but its immediate and tangible importance has forged each generation into something less like an office than a family, one bound not by relation but shared purpose.

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That is not entirely unique. Many community newspapers across the country are like that. But none has ever been challenged in the way the Capital Gazette was in 2018.

We will not dwell on the tragedy that shattered the newsroom June 28, when a gunman broke in and killed five staff members, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. All we can comprehend from that inhuman act is the heroism of Winters, who put herself in mortal danger to save others, and the professionalism of the police, whose rapid response and preparation saved yet more lives.

It is what happened next that leaves us in awe. With the world watching, those who survived began to report on the terror they had endured just hours before and on the losses they had just suffered. Reporter Chase Cook tweeted after the attack, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” and they did.

They reported on the attack, on the suspect and on their fallen colleagues. And they reported on the County Council, school board meetings, zoning, high school sports and Teen of the Week. They put out a paper the next day, and the next, and the next after that. Long after the mixture of adrenaline and defiance that propelled them in the hours after the attack had worn away, they were left with the loss of their colleagues, the terror they had endured — and the relentlessness of a daily newspaper.

In the following weeks, reporters, photographers and editors from across the country came to help in an inspiring display of solidarity and an affirmation of the importance of journalism in the community. That assistance was invaluable, but it was the Capital Gazette staff members themselves who upheld the paper’s mission at great personal cost.

The process of recovery from trauma is not linear, and it’s not predictable. Those who have experienced an event like this one can never know what might trigger memories and emotions that overwhelm them. Newspapers aren’t predictable either. The Capital Gazette journalists can never know what they’ll encounter when they leave the office or pick up the phone. They could find themselves at a crime scene or on the receiving end of a rant about the mainstream media. With every step in the case against the man accused of killing their co-workers, Capital Gazette reporters are the ones going to the courthouse to pick up the documents. Every mass shooting that has followed — and there have been many, from the killings at a Rite Aid warehouse in Harford County to the murders at a Pittsburgh synagogue — represented yet another trial.

Yet six months later, they are all still on the job, all still fulfilling the responsibility for which their friends gave their lives.

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The Baltimore Sun has owned the Capital Gazette for the past several years, and our bond with those newspapers was strong long before that. Many of our staff members are Capital alumni, and Hiaasen spent many years at The Sun, so we are not wholly objective in our assessment. But we have also had the opportunity to see up close the extraordinary dedication of those who would not let a madman disrupt the institution for which they worked, who would not let down the legacy of their colleagues, who would not abandon the community they serve. In their quiet exercise of daily courage, they represented not just the best of journalism but the best of humanity.

It is our great honor to name the Capital Gazette staff The Sun’s 2018 Marylanders of the Year.

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