The nightmare of every journalist ever threatened for simply doing their job came true last week.
While we are still grieving for our community newspaper peers at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland — slaughtered inside their newsroom by a man who had a longstanding grudge against reporters and editors — we can’t say we were surprised to hear about this horrible act of violence against journalists.
Ask any veteran news reporter and they’ll likely tell you the same thing: journalists have always had to deal with vague threats from irate readers, but the mood is different lately. It’s darker, more immediate.
Twenty years ago, a reader may have sued or left a nasty voicemail or, in the most extreme cases, slashed our car tires in the newspaper parking lot.
Now, however, their ire has the backing and support of the President of the United States, who days before the Gazette murders whipped his supporters into a frenzy at a rally before pointing to media covering the event and calling them out as “the enemy of the people.”
They also have backing and support from the all-powerful gun manufacturers’ lobby, the National Rifle Association, which produced a video in March threatening “every lying member of the media (and) those who bring bias and propaganda to CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times” that their “time is running out.”
And they have backing and support from every single person who lets comments like “fake news” and “liberal media” and “lying media” float past them without speaking up to defend the reporters and editors and broadcast journalists whose work they depend on to know what’s happening in their community and the rest of the world.
Being a newspaper reporter, for most of us, has always been a badge of pride. We certainly aren’t driven by the hours or the pay. Most community newspaper reporters rarely crack $15 an hour, even after 10 or more years on the job. And when it comes to a regular schedule, forget it. If something is breaking, you need to go cover it. If a source can talk to you at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, you talk to them at 11 p.m. on a Sunday.
No, the thing propelling most reporters is bigger than pay or work-life balance. It’s a sense that the work we are doing actually matters in the larger scheme of things — that the communities we cover, often the same communities where we live and raise our families, only thrive when people understand the forces shaping their local government, school districts and businesses.
In the past few years, however, there has been an organized effort by far-right interests to discredit members of the media. They hurl “fake news” at us for simply taking photos of an event or repeating the exact words coming out of their leaders’ mouths.
When words don’t work, they often resort to violence.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there have been 58 reported physical attacks on reporters since Trump came into power. Two reporters were assaulted by right-wing politicians in 2017 and two others were attacked by right-wing groups while covering protests in their communities.
The irony of the far-right crowd spewing hatred toward the media is not lost on me. Before I came to The Post-Record last year, I had worked for several news organizations owned by right-wing people. Most were fine — with owners who kept their hands off of the editorial content. At one media outlet, however, the owner brought in consultants who had never worked in journalism to “teach” us how to improve our “community news.”
Their suggestion? That we should ask local, outspoken, far-right community members to write articles — and then put our names on them, so people would think we, the journalists, had written them.
We shot them down, of course, but in the weeks that followed, most reporters who had come from traditional media backgrounds had left, appalled by the owner’s attempts to manufacture actual fake news.
So, you’ll forgive me if I break into hysterical laughter as these people push the narrative that it is the “liberal media” who are somehow manipulating news stories.
Of course, it will take more than just words and ironic laughter to combat these attacks on the free press.
What we really need is a community that rallies in support of not only national media, but also local and regional journalists. Fortunately, there are many people who understand this concept in Camas and Washougal.
I saw the good in this community on Saturday, while covering a march in which dozens of Camas-Washougal residents came out to support immigrant families.
More than a few of those marching on Saturday approached me as I ran in the road, alongside the crowd, taking photos, shooting video and talking to strangers about why they’d come out that day.
“Are you a reporter?” many asked me. “Yes,” I said.
“Thank you for your work. Be safe!” they responded.
To them, we say the same: Thank you for your support. It means the world to us, and it is needed now more than ever before.
~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor