We Are Annapolis

I was sitting in the downtown Wheeling newsroom Thursday afternoon when the reporter sitting at the desk to my left, Joselyn King, uttered the words “newsroom shooting.” She had glanced over at the TV tuned to a national news outlet. She turned up the sound. My stomach plummeted and I held my breath. It was if the air in the newsroom had been sucked out.

Soon, the reporter announced they learned from journalist Phil Davis at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, that five of his colleagues were dead from a lone shooter.

Twelve hours and many tweets later, Davis said he couldn’t sleep, so he would do all he could do: Report. He tweeted the facts and posted a screen shot of the court record. Jarrod Warren Ramos, 38, of Laurel, Maryland, was arrested on five counts of first-degree murder, his first hearing scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Davis’ need to tell his story was a reminder that journalists are a breed apart — always have been, always will be. It’s not a profession you can turn off like a faucet. Even if, like me, you’re not on the front lines of all that’s gritty and grisly, adrenaline still blasts through your veins when you hear the disembodied voice on the scanner summoning first responders to a fatal car wreck, a fully engaged fire, a shooting. No matter how engrossed in writing or editing copy, reporters from around the room call out “Where?” and everything stops while we listen for another dispatch. Sometimes even before knowing his destination, veteran photographer Scott McCloskey grabs a camera and is halfway out the door. Daytime editor Heather Ziegler yells: “We’ll call you when we know where you’re going!”

Judge all you want, we can take it, our skins calloused by years of grating ridicule. Fact is, people don’t always like to hear the truth, so they blame the person who reports it. The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” is particularly poignant in the wake of the Capital slayings.

It’s just this: Someone has to tell others what’s going on — whether it’s a shooting or a crooked politician or a high school football game play-by-play or a local person’s brush with fame.

For journalists, it’s not a morbid fascination or a desire to harm, it’s a moral duty.

And that duty doesn’t end just because the location of the bloodshed is the desk next to yours.

That’s what people like Ramos, who reportedly holds a grudge against Capital staffers for doing their jobs, can never understand.

My friend Christina Myer, Parkersburg News and Sentinel editor, posted on Facebook Thursday evening that she wished she could explain to her non-journalist friends why it’s so important for the Capital staff to publish a paper the next day. I commented: “It never occurred to me they wouldn’t.” And of course, they did.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re human; we feel, we make mistakes, and yes, we bleed. As I read Friday morning about the Capital victims, I thought, “They sound just like us.” As my colleague Linda Comins put it: “They ARE us.”

A Capital editor, Jimmy DeButts, sums “us” up perfectly:

“There are no 40-hour weeks, no big paydays — just a passion for telling stories from our community. We keep doing more with less. We find ways to cover high school sports, breaking news, tax hikes, school budgets and local entertainment. We are there in times of tragedy. We do our best to share the stories of people, those who make our community better. Please understand, we do all this to serve our community.” And we will not stop.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at bbethel@theintelligencer.net.

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