From the Editor: Journalists are not the enemy
July 4, 2018
Five journalists are dead, gunned down by a man who harbored a vendetta against the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, for writing a story about him seven years earlier. He sued the paper, and a judge ruled in the newspaper's favor after finding the article to be factual. The shooter then proceeded to harass the paper and plot his own vengeance, even though the journalists he shot and killed had nothing to do with the original story.
The news of the shooting hit close to home, and for us at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, it came as we were preparing to host a retirement celebration honoring veteran journalist Tom Ross — a man who has dedicated his entire career to community journalism and covering the news of Steamboat Springs.
After 24 years as a reporter, an editor and a publisher, I've dealt with my share of angry readers, but I never imagined one of them would turn into a gun-toting murderer. There was the sawmill owner, who took a swing at me over what he considered an unfair article about his business. I've received threatening letters from criminals whose arrests and convictions we wrote about as well as angry voicemails from readers claiming I lean too far left or too far right on our opinion pages. There's even a website, created by a critic of the newspaper, that is devoted solely to letting people know just how bad this person thinks I am at my job.
Over the years, I've grown a thick skin and shoulders wide enough to carry the weight of a critical public. It's part of the job, but I always believed, until last week, that our detractors would spar with us through words posted online underneath our stories or with nasty emails or phone calls. I never thought that journalists' lives could be in danger just for doing their jobs.
And with that threat in mind, I felt it was time to set the record straight on behalf of the Pilot & Today news team and hard-working journalists everywhere.
We are not the enemy of the people, as we've been labeled. The work we do is vitally important to the communities we serve and foundational to a free society. I've worked with dozens of journalists over the past three decades, and not a single one of them had an agenda or made it his or her mission to inflict harm on any individual.
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Yes, sometimes the stories we write expose wrongdoing or detail a heartbreaking tragedy. That is our job. And when we have to write those tough stories, especially those involving death or abuse or injustice, it's never easy, and we don't take that responsibility lightly.
Journalists are not unfeeling, hard-hearted individuals, but we do learn to put our emotions aside to provide readers with unbiased news about events that occur within our communities, just like the reporters from the Capital Gazette did when they swung into action by instinct and wrote about the murders of their colleagues just hours after the shooting.
Journalists, especially those working at local newspapers, are not peddling "fake news." And they don't have hidden agendas. Newspapers do exist to hold elected officials accountable, and we take that watchdog job very seriously. But on most days, we wake up and pursue one mission: to tell the stories of our communities, fairly and accurately.
On any given day, the Pilot & Today news team is reporting on everyday life in Northwest Colorado. In the past week, we reported on a historic barn that burned down in North Routt, wrote about the Steamboat Springs Arts Council's efforts to re-envision an aging playground structure in West Lincoln Park and provided our readers with a comprehensive list of July Fourth events so they could navigate holiday festivities more easily.
Our news team specializes in covering breaking news as it happens, and our reporters also tackle serious issues facing the community, like rising housing costs, drug addiction or government officials who misuse their power. We've also proven over the years that we're not afraid to use Colorado's open record laws to obtain access to information that we know belongs in the public domain, and that's a battle we intend to keep fighting.
What happened at the Capital Gazette shook us up and made us aware that we're not immune from gun violence. It has prompted some new safety protocols at the office and has made us take idle threats more seriously. But in the end, it won't stop us from doing our jobs, because what we do matters — news matters, newspapers matter and local journalists matter.