This morning, I walked into the office and sat down at my desk.
An unremarkable sentence. An unremarkable act.
Yesterday, five people in Annapolis, Md., did the same unremarkable thing — for the last time.
A gunman opened fire in the Capital Gazette newsroom, killing them as they worked.
Gerald Fischman, 61, was the “clever and quirky voice of a community newspaper,” the Baltimore Sun said. Rob Hiaasen, 59, brother of writer Carl, was a “generous mentor.” John McNamara, 56, covered sports, his dream job. Wendi Winters, 65, was a “prolific” features writer and a mother of four. Rebecca Smith, 34, had recently been hired as a sales assistant and was known for her kindness.
These are facts, like the ones the staff at the Capital Gazette produce every day for its readers. Its writers cover city council meetings and high school football games and pen editorials and columns with titles such as “Teen of the Week.”
I didn’t know these people, but then again, I did.
I have been a journalist for 25 years. I have worked in six newsrooms in three states. While the locations changed, the people remained constant. Different personalities, to be sure, but all good people. The best people.
Last night, trying to process feelings I still can’t name, I wrote a rambling Facebook post and started tagging all my journalist friends. I quickly reached the limit for tagging people in one post (it’s 60; I had no idea) and had to start again in the comments. I looked at the names through a scrim of tears and felt humbled amazement. From Washington state to Texas, from Philadelphia to Florida, here was a list of people who, for years, have sacrificed time with their families, vacation days, sleep and mental well-being to provide facts for their readers.
The other thing those six newsrooms shared is that they were sanctuaries. Newsrooms are safe places, places where people who are like you but not, from all kinds of walks of life but all a little off-center in some (usually) endearing way, come together to put out a product about which we all care fiercely. At any given moment, a glance into a newsroom — in South Carolina, in Virginia, in any city or country in the world — would reveal a group of folks who probably would never have crossed paths otherwise, eyes fixed on the computer screens that prematurely ruin our vision, fingers flying over the keyboards we know like lovers, corners of mouths curled in some dry quip as we work.
Yesterday, a shotgun blast shattered that sanctuary. Blood ran in Maryland like it did in Paris and like it may well do again, unless we can find a way to connect with what makes us, different personalities all, all human.
Seven days ago, I sat in a room full of journalists. We had all cleaned up as nicely as we could to puzzle over the correct salad fork at a dinner honoring the work of colleagues throughout the country and in Canada and Australia. We applauded each other and got to know one another. We left invigorated, eager to share ideas and try new things in our publications.
Six days ago, I stood in front of a wall of 2,323 pictures of journalists who have been killed doing their jobs. I barely noticed other visitors to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. I looked at faces, read names, and I cried. It felt so immediate.
Sadly, that was exactly the right word.
Five more names will now go on that wall. I didn’t know them, but they are my colleagues.
The Capital Gazette produced a newspaper yesterday, filled with notes taken by reporters covering a news conference where officials described the deaths of their friends. A reporter tweeted about how it felt to hide under a desk and hear the shooter reload. A photographer talked about how he thought he should be doing more to cover an event in which he thought he was going to die. Social media filled with pictures of Capital Gazette staffers at their desks, doing their jobs, because, as one reporter said, “I don’t know what else to do except this.”
None of us in this business do. Some of us have tried to leave it — some more than once — for jobs that pay better, that demand less, that garner more respect. But journalism burrows into your bones and becomes the only thing you can do, or at least the only thing that matters.
This morning, I sit at my desk and do my job. I am grateful for the chance.