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Violence not the answer, won’t stop truth

We have wondered, even just briefly, if it could happen here. Could someone walk into our offices on N. Railroad Avenue and shoot?

The anger is out there. You wouldn’t believe how many times people have called to curse and yell and spew hatred. Their grievance? We dared to publish the arrest report. Or they didn’t like a column I wrote. Or they are mad about a story on the front page.

It does not help that we have a president who vilifies the media, who calls us “the enemy of the American people.” For some people, his language is a call to violence.

It used to be that people would write a letter to the editor if they were upset with the newspaper. Now, they turn to social media to vent their rage, disparage us and worse. They stew in their hatred, and sometimes it boils over.

I won’t pretend to understand the fear reporters and editors faced when a man upset about a story shot up a newsroom in Maryland Thursday. Five people were killed. And for what? Doing a job that once was valued in this country.

I have had employees (not here, thankfully) threatened with violence. I have been threatened with violence.  I’ve known editors who have been physically assaulted for doing their jobs. I knew a reporter who was beaten with a bat because he dared report the truth.

That sort of hatred for those who report on their communities has always been there. But it is different now. Gone is civic discourse. Gone is the idea of disagreeing with someone and shaking hands at the end of a debate. What we are left with is irrational anger — and a willingness to act violently on it.

Sitting at my desk facing Railroad Avenue, I have a good view of the people who come into our offices. And I make a judgment call on each and every one of them I see. Does this person mean to do us harm? Does this person have violence in their eyes?

There have been a few who caused me to jump to my feet and greet them at the front door so no one else had to. There have been a few who I have welcomed into my office, knowing they are going to scream, to curse, and to hate. So far, my instincts have been correct and no one has tried to harm any of us at the newspaper.  But that may not always be the case.

Journalists are far from perfect, but every reporter I have ever known seeks to do the job well, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Some are liberal, some are conservative, some are neither. Some are religious, some are not. Some are white, some are black. In other words, they are just like everyone else.

They believe having more information, not less, is how communities and countries better themselves. They believe in reporting the good, the bad and the ugly, because they know problems can’t be fixed if they are not recognized. They believe in what they do, and they work long hours for little pay to do it.

Here in Brookhaven, our small newsroom might find itself writing stories about everything from a graduation ceremony to a fatal shooting to a woman who loves sunflowers — all in a single day. Thrown in that mix might also be stories about a controversial government meeting or taxes or high school baseball. A reporter might be on the scene of a fire at 1 a.m. and back in the office at 8 to finish a feature story on a student who got an academic scholarship to Yale.

If it happens here, we try to report on it as best we can. That’s all the newspaper in Maryland was doing when a coward walked in and started shooting. Journalists there died doing a job that fewer and fewer people understand and appreciate. Hopefully, there won’t be more.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.