Phil Davis, a crime reporter at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, never thought he would cover a news story that unfolded in his own newsroom but that’s exactly what happened last month. Davis’ colleagues were gunned down in front of him June 28 during what would become the country’s 154th mass shooting of the year. Five of his colleagues were killed and others injured after a gunman barricaded the building’s back exit, blocking his victims’ exit, and then blasted through the glass door to the office with a shotgun. Davis tweeted throughout the horrifying incident while hiding under his desk.
Davis tweeted, “Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees. There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”
The five journalists killed in the Capital Gazette’s newsroom were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.
The incident is still under investigation but media accounts revealed that the Capital Gazette gunman had been involved in a long-running dispute with the newspaper’s staff members who were no longer employed at the paper. Since 2012, the gunman had sued, harassed, trolled on social media and threatened the newspaper and its staff. He even took aim at a judge who dismissed the gunman’s legal claims against the paper.
The gunning down of the five journalists at their place of employment demonstrated the growing threat journalists face. They have become a target of dangerous acts committed by those emboldened by vitriolic comments that disparage journalists’ work and veracity. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists research reveals that “[t]he U.S. is now the deadliest country for journalists in 2018, behind only Afghanistan… and Syria.” Earlier this year, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) urged all news organizations and journalists to heighten their security measures following the arrest of a man who allegedly threatened to assassinate several CNN employees.
Like YouTube, hotels and other industries also victimized by violent offenders, news outlets across the country demonstrated a stronger sense of urgency for heightened security measures following the tragedy in Annapolis. Yet, more steps are necessary to protect journalists, especially for smaller, local organizations like the Capital Gazette. These organizations typically have a higher level of public engagement and visibility, which is necessary for the operation of such a community institution. The Poynter Institute, a global resource for the journalism industry, described some proactive steps news organizations can take to better protect their employees. It is incumbent upon the outlets to protect their journalists or the organization, like others, will be held accountable for negligent security claims.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)