Tone down the rhetoric

By: 
Chuck Kajer, The New Prague Times

Last week’s shooting in Annapolis, MD, left five newspaper employees dead and several others wounded. A man with a grudge over an article from six years earlier opened fire on the office after first blocking the rear exits to the building. The incident could have been worse, had it not been for the quick response by local law enforcement, who were on the scene within 60 seconds and quickly arrested the gunman.

Very few jobs get as much public scrutiny as newspaper and broadcast news outlets. Your work is on display for the entire community to see. They see your best work, and they also see your worst mistakes. Credibility is always just a mistake away from being damaged. That’s why we work hard to make sure we have our facts straight before we put something online or in print. You put a few dozen stories in a newspaper, and if one of them has an error, that’s the one that draws all the attention.

Reporters do not take errors lightly. We can be our own worst critics when we make an error, because we know how much damage it can do.

But sometimes, people might claim that we make an error and try to argue with us about it. They might claim some bias against them or their group or their cause. Even when the facts check out, they refuse to admit that they are wrong. In the Annapolis case, the suspect had sued the newspaper for defamation. The case was thrown out because, in the judge’s words, the facts presented in the story were basically true.

One trend that has damaged all news media is the term “Fake News.” This has been thrown out so much over the last few years by politicians and pundits in an attempt to discredit credible news sources anytime the stories paint a picture that disagrees with their opinion. The Bill of Rights allows for freedom of expression, so such disagreements are to be expected. But in recent months, the press has been labelled an “enemy of the people,” and some extremists have advocated attacking journalists. That is the most disturbing aspect of all this. Whether the shooter was motivated by this, or whether he just wanted to act on a grudge, the fact remains five people are dead. Those who have been calling for violence against journalists, or against any group of people, need to change their rhetoric.

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