Like many of you, my first job out of college was on the staff of a small, five-day-a-week newspaper. I covered local sports in Aiken, South Carolina, a job I got because I grew up with horses and Aiken was, and still is, an important training center for Thoroughbreds. It was a wonderful introduction to journalism and more than 40 years later, I’m still writing about horse racing. I had the usual worries shared with journalists everywhere: too much work and not enough time, tracking down sources, getting the facts correct, deadlines that always came too soon.
Never once, though, did I worry about getting shot on the job or about my newsroom being turned into a war zone. But with a president who vilifies journalists at every turn, with a supporter who gleefully encourages the shooting of journalists, and with a Congress that lacks the resolve to act, it’s clear that things have changed.
Our condolences go out to the five journalists killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper last week and to their grieving families, but platitudes, even when sincere, don’t do a damn thing. The most important things that we can do—things that we must do—are remember those who lost their lives and keep reminding everyone that atrocities like this one cannot be tolerated in a free society. Journalists and a free press are not the enemies of a civilized society and never will be, no matter what anyone says. Normalizing this behavior means losing everything that’s important.
ASJA was one of 400-plus organizations and individuals that signed on to a letter written by the Student Press Law Center shortly after the shootings decrying the growing vilification of, and violence against, journalists. We will continue to speak out in support of a profession so important and honorable that it is enshrined in the Constitution. Many of our members started out as newspaper reporters, with values that include the necessity of speaking truth to power, of turning over rocks to see what crawls out, of holding our governmental representatives and employees responsible. An attack on a newsroom is an attack on the institution that keeps our elected officials honest, and therefore it is an attack on everything our nation stands for. We as an organization and as individuals must continue to push back on the idea that the media are enemies of the people. It is the opposite – we are their champions.
Milton C. Toby JD, President, with the full support of Executive Committee members Janine Latus, Vice-President; Howard Baldwin, Treasurer; Jennifer Goforth Gregory, Secretary; Past Presidents Sherry Beck Paprocki and Randy Dotinga.