Labor Day was created to pay tribute to the American labor movement. So, the reporters and photographer who labor at the Annapolis Capital and Carroll County Times went for some collective action this Labor Day to protest Tribune Publishing’s decision last month to shut down their newsrooms and three others across the country.
The Capital Gazette staffers had planned to follow an old newspaper tradition, gathering a few things—old notebooks, the mementos that decorated their desks-- and leaving as their colleagues lined up to applaud them.
But it didn’t work out that way. Tribune, citing COVID-19 concerns, locked them out of the newsroom in a nondescript office park on the edge of Annapolis.
“But we can’t do that now,” said Danielle Ohl, a Capital reporter. “So, so we’re just going to say goodbye out here to the place we thought we were going to be in for years.”
They gathered in the parking lot of the building they had occupied for less than a year to accept the applause of colleagues from the Baltimore Sun and other Tribune owned properties then piled in cars decorated with slogans like Shame on Tribune and Save Local News and headed into town in a raucous, horn-tooting caravan.
They went in West Street, the main drag into town, past the strip shopping centers and fast food joints and stately old houses turned into lawyers’ offices. They rounded Church Circle and State Circle and cut down Maryland Avenue, past the University of Maryland Journalism School offices they shared after the 2018 mass shooting in their old news room.
And finally, they wound up at the City Dock, where they were greeted by a crowd of supporters.
Among them was Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, one of the victims of the shooting. She praised the staff for never missing an edition, despite the tragedy. But, she added, they can’t keep doing that without a newsroom.
“They can’t just drive around with a laptop in their car and go to the McDonald’s for the WIFI to upload their story and take the picture from their Iphone and be everywhere they want to be and talk to everyone they want to talk to,” she said.
The staff had been working from home since mid-March, but, reporter, Danielle Ohl told the crowd they always saw it as a temporary measure to protect health and safety, nothing permanent.
“Because we know that when you are in a community you cover that community the way it deserves to be covered,” she said.
A newsroom is a place of camaraderie, collaboration and education, where reporters and editors can swap ideas and double check their facts, she and others said.
“It is where young journalists can come in and learn from old dogs, and it’s where young journalists can teach old dogs what Tik-Tok’s all about,” said Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, who helped set up sound equipment for the rally.
Tribune spokesman Max Reinsdorf said in a statement emailed Monday night that the company is “sensitive to how challenging this decision is for our Annapolis-based employees.”
But, he said, they have been successful working remotely and they will be able to use space at The Sun’s offices in Port Covington when it is safe to return to newsrooms.
That’s not good enough, said Rachael Pacella, a survivor of the shooting. She argued that local coverage will suffer if reporters have to drive a half hour or more back to Baltimore to file their stories.
“It’s going to hurt the number of things we can cover, it’s going to hurt being able to run out the office for 10 minutes to check something out to see if it’s a story or not,” she said.
She said it was “shameful” that Tribune would kick survivors of the shooting out of a newsroom that was designed with their safety in mind.
“That space, the new newsroom, we were only in it for about a year, but it was a tremendous place of healing for us,” Pacella said. “And this has shown that not only do they not care about the community, they don’t care about the journalists who have suffered in the past.”
Ohl said the Capital Gazette staffers have no illusions they’ll get their newsroom back. They just want Tribune to see that it’s not just a bunch of disgruntled journalists, but a whole community that supports them.