Words, unlike bullets, can’t kill but they can cause serious damage. Most journalists know that better than anyone.
Reporters learn the importance of words, context and fairness in college. They’re taught that in a search for the truth of a matter, one of the obligations is to try to minimize harm to those they may write about.
That’s a goal, something easier said than done, and not always accomplished in one or two stories.
Things like fairness and balance can be a challenge, for example, for a reporter writing about a criminal, about someone who feels slighted by the “system,” or even a story about a politician who, no matter what is reported, says the reporter “got it wrong.”
Reporters do get it wrong sometimes. But when they do, they stand corrected.
Details are still emerging about the man behind Thursday’s deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette, the Annapolis, Maryland newspaper, so it’s premature to say what led him to commit our latest mass murder.
This one, like the ones that have happened far too often at schools across the nation, may never be fully understood or explained.
Initially, it appears the suspected killer was just retaliating against the newspaper for reporting about a crime he had committed, and a failed lawsuit he had once brought against the publication.
Certainly, there will be more to the story, including the suspect’s mental state, warning signs he had posted on social media, and what appears to be a gross misuse of firearms to solve a complaint he had with a newspaper.
We hope the senseless act brings awareness about the importance of news and how it is reported.
Too often these days, people use the term “fake news” to describe something they believe is inaccurate in the news or to discredit it because it doesn’t fall in line with their way of thinking. Our political discourse is no longer bound by the decency that once accompanied a reasonable exchange of different opinions.
While “fake news” is most often used to describe the “mainstream media,” it is increasingly applied to all newsgathering operations, large and small.
Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any direct tie between the “fake news” rhetoric and this week’s shooting. But the constant attack on the integrity of journalists who take their jobs seriously is unfortunate.
Every shooting death, whether in a classroom, alongside a highway or in a newsroom, is tragic.
Journalists cover such events and other horrific matters on a regular basis. They write stories based on what they see and hear, information they find in documents and comments made to them by credible sources.
Those who write or speak merely to incite or divide aren’t true journalists.
Killing the messenger of the news doesn’t solve a problem any more than randomly shooting students to stop bullying.
Last year, 46 journalists were killed around the world, but none occurred in the United States. It was a different story Thursday.
The Courier mourns those who lost their lives at the Capital Gazette. Perhaps some good may come if all of us, not just reporters and editors, think more carefully about the words we use in print and conversation.