On Thursday afternoon, Capital Gazette, a local newspaper centered in Annapolis, Md., was targeted by a gunman. The killer blasted through the newsroom’s doors with a shotgun and turned the office into a warzone. Five newspaper employees were killed and two were wounded in the attack. The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, had a grudge against Capital: in 2011, he unsuccessfully sued the publication, claiming that an article accurately detailing his criminal harassment defamed him. In 2015, a Maryland appellate court ruled in favor of Capital. Because of the targeting, newsrooms throughout the nation were put on high alert.
Let us use this tragic moment to appreciate the democratic role of the news media. Because, if it were not for calamity, many among us would deride journalists like those at Capital. A majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of news media; two-thirds believe that news media doesn’t do a good job separating fact from opinion; trust in the media has been steadily declining for decades. We fail to appreciate the way journalists inform us about major events, create narratives and hold our elected officials accountable by informing voters of their actions.
It’s easy to see why we take our news media for granted. Freedom of the press has been the law of the land for more than 250 years. It’s hard to truly value something if you don’t know what life is like without it. Additionally, our news media does have its problems: polarization, sensationalism and misrepresentation of key issues abound. Why put your trust in a flawed institution?
But this doesn’t discount the consequence of having an independent media, free from violence. The myopic, cruel regimes in Russia and North Korea can survive because there are no journalists to tell the people what their leaders are hiding. In Mexico and Turkey, journalists covering corruption risk assassination or jail time. This state violence on the media has coincided with the rise of authoritarianism and dangerous populism. In America, without an independent media, we wouldn’t have heard about Watergate, wouldn’t have seen the horrors of dogs and water hoses in the Deep South, wouldn’t have felt the plight of soldiers and civilians in Vietnam. We’d be in the dark about our democracy.
So today, let’s not take for granted what we have: a robust, varied media apparatus that checks the government’s power and provides us with vital information. Pick up a copy of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Tune into your local stations. Get informed on the story of the day. It’s a good way to honor the dedicated people at the Capital Gazette, who haven’t stopped working even in the face of disaster.