Published On: Fri, Jul 6th, 2018

Should Journalists Start Packing Now?

Sitting in my journalism classes in college, I learned the essence of what makes a good story, avoid libeling someone, the importance of asking tough questions and getting the details to write my stories factually and accurately.

When I worked in five newsrooms from Massachusetts to Florida, I practiced with pride the cannons I learned.

At no time during my more than three decades as a journalist, was I prepared to protect myself with a pistol on the job, the way it is debated that some teachers should do today.

In the wake of last week’s brutal attack on my fellow journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, I find myself asking, ‘What the hell is happening in this country?’

All the things we once considered “sacred” or the places and institutions we thought were untouchable are now under attack.

As news people, we expect to go to work every day and do our jobs without fear of retribution. Yes, we expect the letters, phone calls, and emails from those who disagree with us.

I am not naïve to think there are not wackos who will hurt you just because they can or because they don’t like your work.

While I know there are those who will bleed venom-laced epithets from the mouth and hurl threats to massage their egos, I must admit that until recently I never anticipated anyone physically harming journalists on U.S. soil.

Over the past few years, especially under this new administration, the term “First Amendment rights” has been watered down almost like a trite expression.

The reality is, there seems to be a lack of understanding of why there is this right and what it truly means.

As there are amendments that underscore and secure freedom and democracy in this country, there are amendments designed to help us keep these freedoms.

The media is the fourth checkpoint on the democracy of this country. The other three are congress, the supreme court and the executive branch.

Although this is not a federal job, the idea of the free press was to be another checking point, and when you try to remove or coerce that check point, you’re unbalancing the scale.

Considering the daily assault on journalists coupled with the phrase “fake news” by politicians, political commentators and those who see journalists as enemies of the public, I am not surprised though.

When I think of the slaughtering of worshippers in churches, the attacks on innocent children in schools and now, the targeting of journalists for doing what we do – report the news as unbiasedly as we possibly can – it makes me say, enough is enough.

During my 24 years at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, I had my share of unkind missives from readers. Cops threatened me, lawyers and even members of the clergy dressed me down over my coverage of them.

A retired educator once sent me a tear sheet of my story with a word highlighted and a $2 bill with the encouragement to “invest in a dictionary and use it.”

And there was the time when two of my colleagues discovered that a local deli owner was selling pork for kosher.

After the story broke, he told one of the writers that the story would kill his business and he was going to blow us up, which prompted the paper to assign a security guard at the entrance to the building.

Yes, I recall my days as a reporter at the Sun-Sentinel wearing a bulletproof vest to work. That was to ward off an attack from a few disgruntled rogue cops who had threatened me after I wrote a series of stories outing their practices.

I could have been over paranoid but I donned the vest myself because -the paper didn’t even know I was wearing one – I knew what these guys were capable of doing.

One police chief also tried – not once but two times – to get me fired. He even tasked one of his underlings to keep a folder on me, of which I later learned after he was forced to resign in disgrace.

Perhaps one of the more egregious experiences was when an irate developer, who lost a bid during a highly contested election, accused me of costing him the election and sent me a caustic missive to have sexual relations with myself.

It has become commonplace to hear elected officials who disagree with something the newspaper published brand our work “fake news” in public meetings.

Still, we do not expect anyone to barge in our newsrooms and unleash hell on us as Jarrod Ramos did.

What about the days when someone would threaten to kick your rear end like a soccer ball or swear they would cancel their subscription so “your paper would close down.”

As someone who has spent much of my life in newsrooms, what I find especially frightening today is how quickly people are at declaring journalists as the enemy, if they do not like something that was printed or reported.

In May, we saw where Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat, “body-slammed” a Guardian political reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election after the reporter questioned him about the Republican healthcare plan.

Perhaps there are some media outlets that lean more one way than the other, but most of us, including the Boca Raton Tribune, do not.

We take great pride, every single day, to report the local news as unbiasedly as we possibly can.  And just like those brave, courageous journalists, who while grieving the death of their colleagues, rushed across the street from their bloodied newsroom (crime scene) and put out a newspaper the next day, that is what we do – even under fire:  we deliver the news at any cost and damn it, we will not be deterred.

  1. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@dleraybeachtribune.com or 561-665-0151.

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