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The tragedy at Annapolis: What to do next?

By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

Maryland Shooting NewspaperLast week's tragedy at the Annapolis Capital touches all of us.  I have no doubt all our ONMA members have spent a moment pondering that what happened in Annapolis could have happened at their own newspaper.

To the extent that good can come from bad, it has been heartening to see accurate descriptions about what a local newspaper means to a community, and to hear public officials talk candidly and emotionally about what their local newspaper means to them.

At about the same time this tragedy was unfolding, I was on the phone with Ken Douthit, publisher of the outstanding local newspaper in Chagrin Falls. Like The Capital and so many of our ONMA member papers, the Chagrin Valley Times covers the community with passion, thoroughness, dedication and courage. Diminished resources don’t change that.

Ken and I started talking about the times in which we live. He described the uptick in cancelled subscriptions and anger he’s encountering from readers whenever something is published with which they disagree. It seems almost impossible, he said, to have the kind of rational conversations that used to occur when someone was upset about “something in the newspaper.” Other publishers tell us the same thing. While incidents such as the one at Annapolis could happen at any time, it is fair to conclude that the anger of many against journalists and a political culture that has enabled acting out and bullying make such incidents likelier today.

What can be done? Every newspaper needs to do a thorough evaluation of its site-security procedures and not take threats for granted.  You could make sure that local law enforcement has a floor plan of your building and knows all entrances and exits. At last February’s convention, we did a panel discussion on newspaper security that included an expert from the nationally recognized program at the University of Findlay.  We will follow up on that. Let us know how we can help.

Deeper answers are more elusive, and it’s ironic to say the least that some of the possible legislative measures only anger more readers when you write about them. What I do know is that all ONMA members will continue to “put out a damn newspaper” just as The Capital did.

On behalf of the eight of us at the ONMA, thank you for what you do, and please know we are here to do everything we can to help you succeed.

Dennis, Sue, Walt, Jason, Mike, Pat, Mitch and Josh

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