On Thursday, a madman entered the lobby of a community newspaper in Annapolis and immediately began shooting employees.
His reason? A story the paper had run seven years ago after he was convicted of criminal harassment. The shooter, Jarrod Ramos, was found guilty of harassing a woman online.
The victim's attorney described it as the "worst case of harassment and stalking I have ever encountered in my career.”
After his sentencing, the paper ran an article warning readers the danger of sharing personal details with people online.
That was enough for Ramos to foster a deadly grudge against the paper that culminated in a shooting spree seven years later.
The victims of his wrath had absolutely nothing to do with the original story. The writer of the column had long since left the paper.
In the end, five people were killed by Ramos.
The story of Ramos and the Capital Gazette could have happened anywhere. It’s safe to say that most of our reporters have rubbed people the wrong way at one point or another in their careers.
In my time as a crime and courts reporter, I’m positive my stories have enraged a few people. Those emails and calls aren’t hard to decipher.
So when word of the rampage hit our office, we all saw how easily something like that could have happened here. In the wake of events like these, which are becoming all too frequent in our country, thoughts turn to prevention.
Some in our community have suggested tighter security at the NTH. One suggested the public should have limited access to newspapers, and another suggested our staff should carry firearms.
However, a newspaper is much different animal than a school or an airport.
A good newspaper seeks to remove the walls between itself and the public, so a bunker mentality is incompatible.
At The Times-Herald, we work tirelessly to dispel the notion that we work in an inaccessible fortress, available to only a select few.
We’re reporters who live and work in our community. If someone wants to shoot us, chances are they know us personally, and we’re not hard to find. No amount of bodyguards, security doors or weapons-carry permits are going to stop someone hell-bent on ending a life.
Personal security is something reporters talk about occasionally, but a “one size fits all” solution isn’t realistic. Some reporters freely exercise their right to carry, while others wouldn’t be caught dead with a gun.
Regardless, they all know the risks involved in being a reporter.
We’re slandered, we’re threatened. Heck, just Google “Rope, tree, journalist” and see the results. It’s not a great time to be a journalist in our country when the POTUS calls you “the enemy of the people.”
But it’s part of the job, and we live with it because we believe we provide a necessary service to our community.
We won’t be intimidated out of providing vital information to the public, because a free press ensures that a well-informed society will thrive.
So while we mourn the senseless murder of our colleagues in Annapolis, we also acknowledge we’re carrying on without changing our game plan. You shouldn't hide from the public you represent.
Just like our colleagues at the Capital Gazette said after the shooting, “We will be here tomorrow. We are not going anywhere.”
Clay Neely is the co-publisher of The Newnan Times-Herald.