My hometown is grieving; grieving the loss of four talented journalists and a young sales person who worked for a paper that styles itself "your hometown newspaper."
You can see it in the Annapolis Strong banners and signs that have popped up all over town; stretched across the median strip of Rowe Boulevard, the main drag off U.S. 50, near City Dock and, naturally, out on Bestgate Road at the corner that leads into the 888 office building that houses Capital Gazette newspapers.
There’s a makeshift altar there where a steady stream of mourners have been leaving balloons and flowers and messages ever since the police re-opened the road Thursday night.
"Capital Gazette," read one. "Local papers are the heart of our community."
"This should not have happened, but it did," read another in a barely legible scrawl. "But I am happy the people came out and paid their respects."
Fittingly, it was written on a page torn from a reporter’s notebook.
The Capital doesn’t try to be all over the news of the world. It concentrates on its hometown. Your kid’s dance recital or little league game probably found its way into the pages of The Capital, along with comprehensive coverage of the mayor and the county executive and what was going on in the State House that affected the local residents.
At the altar, one woman laid her flowers down on the growing pile and began taking pictures. She lives in a Philadelphia suburb now, but she grew up in Annapolis.
“My dad always read the Baltimore Sun,” she recalled. “And my mom read The Capital. I remember her asking, ‘Where’s MY paper.”
The Capital’s my paper, too. The one where I learned this craft from editors who probably were a lot more patient than they should have been. The hours were brutal, the pay lousy, but, damn, it was fun. I suspect the young reporters who work there now thought the same thing. Up until Thursday.
In this business, there are always people complaining because you didn’t tell the story the way they would have. And some even threaten you. But we all tend to blow that off. At least we did until Thursday.
That’s why it’s heartening to see the flowers and balloons and messages.
“Journalism Matters,” read one. “# not the enemy. Thank you Rob, Wendi, Gerald, John and Rebecca.”
That’s Rob Hiaasen, a former colleague at the Baltimore Sun who had become an editor at The Capital. Wendi Winters, the community reporter and editor who spent 20 years covering the small stuff, the “Teen of the Week”, the local civic groups and the arts community and taking pictures at my church’s crab feast.
Gerald Fischman, a quirky editorial writer whose passion for facts ran deep, John McNamara, a veteran sportswriter who thought he had the best job in the world, and Rebecca Smith, a young sales assistant who had just started at the paper last fall.
And even though The Capital is my hometown paper, the messages didn’t come just from people who grew up with the paper. There was a couple from Cabin John who left flowers and a note and Bruce Guthrie from Silver Spring, who was taking pictures. He said he always feared “45”—referring to President Trump—“would say something that would really set somebody off.”
Whether that’s relevant, I don’t know. I do know I was walking down West Street Sunday afternoon wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, "FREEDOM OF THE PRESS" and a woman sitting at an outdoor table in front of one of the restaurants gave me a thumbs-up. It made me feel a little better. We really aren’t the enemy.