No matter what, instinct is there: Put out the paper

Published 2:10 am Saturday, June 30, 2018

“The ink gets in your blood.”

For a long time, that phrase has been used to describe people like me – people whose lives are spent putting together words and photographs to be published as a first draft of a community’s history. Once you have lived the life of a journalist, often a witness at the best and worst moments of a community you cover, it is a difficult thing to leave. Trust me, I tried.

But for the most part – unless you are a war correspondent – it’s not a career in which one expects to spill blood.

Yet the attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, that left five people dead Thursday was not surprising. Perhaps because mass shootings occur so regularly, they are no longer unexpected. They’ve happened at schools, night clubs, concerts, federal buildings. Those whose reasons are unfathomable to you and me have killed teachers, preachers, church-goers, concert attendees, law enforcement officers, teenagers, and little children. It was a matter of time before there was a tragedy of this kind in a radio or television studio or a newsroom.

We are coached early on that with our work, we will step on toes and make people angry. I have always believed that those of us who do this in a small town practice the profession a bit differently than those in cities because we have to be able to look our subjects in the eye when we bump into them in the produce aisle at the supermarket.

Yet I often bristle when people blast “the media” as a whole group, whether they are calling us liberal, biased, or “enemies of the people.” I am quite certain it is the way good cops feel when bad cops cause the entire profession to be criticized as one, or when all teachers or even all politicians are lumped into a category.

But I was mighty proud of the men and women who survived a mass shooting in their office Thursday, and still did their jobs. Some reporters used social media to report the story even as they were hiding from a gunman underneath their desks.

In the midst of the turmoil in Annapolis, before the details of America’s latest tragedy were completely clear, someone tweeted from the Capital Gazette’s official account: “Yes, we’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

Like the teachers who kept looking after children at Sandy Hook, and the cops who walk into terrifying situations daily, what appears to be a fine group of journalists kept doing their jobs.

It’s what we do. Not in 40 hours a week, not just on weekdays, not for big paychecks, and not for glory.

The ink.

The storytelling.

It just gets in your blood.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News, and a fourth generation community newspaper editor.