We are killing reporters in the very newsroom where I was once a young reporter.

I was 22, just months out of college and over-filled with ambition, work ethic and a genuine sense that I could change the world for the better. I suspect that these — now dead — five journalists inside the newsroom that we shared at the Capital Gazette, embodied the same.

Few end their careers at small town newspapers – many begin them there. Those that remain have a passion for the challenges of local news — in other words, for community.

If you work at a small town newspaper, you’re part of a community. If you are murdered in the newsroom, the community bears the responsibility. Flickr.com/NS Newsflash

Long before there was such a thing as a virtual community on the internet, our newspaper readers drove from their homes across town, parked at the Goodwill’s lot across from the old Capital building — and then eye to eye, pounded their fists on our desks and made their point of view known. The feedback for our words on the page was immediate — and personal. We could not dodge our readers because they were also our auto mechanics, grocery store clerks, school nurses and pharmacists.

My heart is breaking.

I graduated from the University of California Berkeley in December 1968. I returned home to Baltimore and just two months later,  accepted a newspaper job at the oldest continuous weekly paper in America, the Maryland Gazette. Within a couple months, I was promoted to the Gazette’s daily sister-paper in Annapolis.

Everything important that I know about the ethics and the logistics of good reporting, I owe to The Capital and to my editor, Phil Evans. I had majored, impractically, in psychology and philosophy. I’d never taken a journalism course and I was hired by a man who had no college degree and believed that: a good reporter was well-read in the service of an insatiable curiosity; was an intelligent generalist; and was quick on her feet.  The rest, he asserted could be learned on the job. This was possible in 1969; maybe not so much now.

I got news of this hometown massacre from my brother back in Maryland. He texted: “They’re killing people at your old newspaper.” And at that very moment, they still were.

I didn’t yet know the details — five dead, more wounded, one suspect.

I use “we” consciously in this story, and I steel myself against the human urge to say “they” or “he.”

I’ve lived now among the Native Hawaiian people on Kauai quite long enough to know that responsibility is shared, that community is an insoluble whole. And so, this time there was a man with a gun and a grudge. Another time there was a bullied student, impotent and enraged. And then there was a young man infected with the racism of his sources who staked out a Christian church.

And no, I did not carry the weapon. I did not blast through the glass door with rage in heart. I assume that you did not either. Not this time. But these Native people I’ve lived among for the past 20 years tell me this: No thread of community carries forth its sole purpose — good or evil — without the complicity of its parts. Do we hold a single thread responsible for the unraveling of a sweater? We do not.

I accept my complicity.  Daily, I contribute in small and large ways to the unraveling threads of our sacred community. I choose to see this as an opportunity, once again, to examine my own.

The Annapolis of my youth was tiny, segregated and tattered in an historic-prideful sense — a good deal distant from its 2018 ex-urban sprawl from the District of Columbia. The Naval Academy and St. John’s College then, as now, were divergent power centers.

As education reporter, I cut my reportorial teeth on academy cheating scandals, integration-purposed busing protests, even book burning. My readers had a great deal to say to me, about all of it. We were a small town, with its full share of community-inspired drama. The newspaper recorded it all.

I choose to celebrate the dead journalists in a slightly different way. These, the people who we killed this time, were the very ones who insisted on my use of we. These were the men and women who never shirked their responsibility to and for the community that they served.

To attempt to slip the noose of our collective culpability here, is to dishonor their lives.

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About the Author

  • Inette Miller
    Inette Miller was a national and international journalist for 16 years — a war correspondent for Time magazine in Vietnam and Cambodia. She is the author of "Grandmothers Whisper," which was awarded the Visionary Award for memoir. She is currently writing her Vietnam memoir, "Girls Don’t!" The website that she runs with her husband is www.ReturnVoyage.com.