By Marc Shapiro
My day came to a grinding halt yesterday as soon as I heard there had been a shooting at The Capital in Annapolis. It didn’t just hit home because a horrific tragedy was unfolding at a storied newspaper, but because among the community newspapers housed in the same newsroom is the Maryland Gazette, where I started my journalism career.
That place turned me into a journalist the old-fashioned way. I was hired in February 2008, two months after graduating college, to cover several communities and business for the biweekly northern Anne Arundel County paper. I learned that the best way to do my job was not to sit behind my desk, but to go to town meetings, meet business owners and politicians, sit with people in their homes and learn about their lives and otherwise embed myself in the community however possible. My editors and fellow reporters would help build my strengths and then immediately knock me out of my comfort zone again.
I covered neighborhoods that ran the socioeconomic gamut — houses with three-car garages were just miles from a low-income, high-crime area, where I got to know community activists. I wrote one of my most difficult pieces after speaking with a family grieving over their son and brother the morning after he was killed in a botched robbery. I canvassed the polls during Barack Obama’s first presidential bid and covered an elementary school’s victory party, where I remember the principal dancing with students and a toddler exclaiming, “Barack Obama is the best president ever!”
I learned how to be a community journalist from my editor Rick Hutzell, now editor of The Capital, and from observing the work of the incredible reporters there. The place is steeped in old-school journalism, and I carry everything I learned there with me to this day.
I didn’t work with all of the victims — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — and I didn’t know any of them well. But I’d recommend reading the five profiles of them to understand who and what we’ve lost. In these times of doing more with less in print journalism, every single employee is crucial in putting out a good product. And The Capital and its affiliated community papers have been doing it for years — covering high school sports, local taxes, development and a litany of other local issues that significantly affect people’s lives. These papers know their communities, and the communities know these papers. Unfortunately, this type of coverage is fading as community papers around the country shrink and shutter.
The Capital still managed to put out a paper this morning while reporting on the deaths of its own employees. If that doesn’t say that journalism endures, I don’t know what does. May the memories of the five employees lost in yesterday’s tragedy be a blessing.
Marc Shapiro is the managing editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.