Tuesday 17 September 2019

Petula Dvorak: 'Journalists are not 'enemy of the people', we are the people'

It appears Trump has forgotten that journalists write about the issues that affect how we live. Photo: AP
It appears Trump has forgotten that journalists write about the issues that affect how we live. Photo: AP

Petula Dvorak

'We won't forget being called an enemy of the people. No, we won't forget that. Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do," - the staff of the 'Capital Gazette'.

The moment of silence that was held yesterday to mark the first anniversary of America's deadliest media massacre - the killing of five people inside the 'Capital Gazette' offices in Annapolis, Maryland - should weigh on us heavily.

First, there are the people who were killed - the fathers, sons, daughters, mother, journalists, people.

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Gerald Fischman (61), the newsroom's editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen (59), editor and features columnist; John McNamara (56), sports writer, news reporter and editor; Rebecca Smith (34), sales assistant; and Wendi Winters (65), the news reporter and community columnist who charged at the gunman and tried to save her colleagues.

They were killed because they were at work that day.

This kind of killing has become a grotesque routine in America - the vigil, the walk, the flowers, the tears. There were 500 workplace homicides in America in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. That's almost two for every workday. But the horrific fact of America's growing workplace violence isn't the entire story.

Another slow-motion tragedy here is the eroding institution those five people dedicated themselves to: local journalism.

The 'Capital Gazette' soldiers on, but many others do not. In the past two decades, at least 1,400 towns in America lost the recorder of town hall meetings, the voice of hometown pride, the generator of clippings kept on refrigerators and in scrapbooks. In America, the local paper is dying. This hit close to home here in the Washington region recently, where the beloved 'Current' newspaper - the Washington institution that has reported on the city, rather than the notion of Washington - shut down after 50 years.

This is happening at a breathtaking rate, in places from New Orleans to Tampa, from Long Beach to Denver.

That loss of coal jobs everyone talks about? It took at least two decades for coal jobs to drop by about half to roughly 51,000, where they stand today, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.

That happened in newspapers in just nine years, falling from 71,000 workers in 2008 to 39,000 in 2017, a 45pc drop, according to a Pew Research study.

Much of that drop is fuelled by economics and technology. Who needs those treasured clippings to preserve local memories when you have Facebook, right? But there's more to it.

President Donald Trump insists on calling an entire American institution the "enemy of the people". He seems to have forgotten that newspapers pre-date America itself - just look at the 'Maryland Journal's' heroic reporting on the Battle of Bunker Hill to remember how integral journalists have been to the nation.

Trump has repeated his "enemy of the people" line about American media in at least 18 tweets since that gunman ripped the offices and staff of the 'Gazette' apart with gunfire. It appears he has forgotten that journalists write about the issues that affect how we live. Those journalists hold your councillors responsible for preventing over-development, report on corruption and examine the distribution of tax income.

The 'Capital Gazette' was awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board for the staff's heroic actions in the aftermath of the shooting.

"We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow," reporter Chase Cook tweeted that day. And they did. They've done so since 1884.

The people of this region have loyally followed the paper's investigations into state lawmakers, crab reports, features on local characters and more.

In that moment of silence yesterday, and the next day, and the day after that, remember the five people who died, and please remember they were not the enemy. We are not the enemy. We are you. (© Washington Post)

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