Editor's note: A longer version of this post originally appeared on former CL writer Alex Pickett's personal Facebook page. He graciously provided an edited version for publication here. —SH
As a journalist, I’ve taken a lot of risks over the years. Sometimes I chose to put myself in precarious situations to enhance the story. Other times, I had no choice if I wanted to get the truth.
I’ve been waterboarded (by choice), hitchhiked the state of the Florida, spent nights in homeless camps and roamed late-night streets during two serial killer panics. I’ve hung out on the border with some wannabe militia members in a known cartel smuggling zone. During mass protests, I ran towards the pepper spray and tear gas.
I’ve also received numerous threats from angry readers, drug dealers, even some elderly members of a homeowners association. I brushed those off. The more concerning threats came from men of questionable mental health with an axe to grind.
The same type of person who shot up a newsroom in Annapolis last week.
We can’t speculate too much on why the shooter chose to carry out those murders after seven years of threats. But I can’t help but think back to the comments made in the days leading up to the tragedy: Our president called reporters “enemy of the people” and a high-profile, vainglorious white supremacist urged his 340,000 Instagram followers to “start gunning down journalists on sight.”
We have no evidence the shooter heard or read any of these comments. But, undeniably, there has been an increase in violence against journalists over the last year or so, here and abroad. You can’t pin that on one person or comment, but normalizing hostility creates a climate that furthers the violence.
I didn’t know any of the men and women killed in that newsroom, but the tragedy still affected me deeply. I, like many other reporters, started out at a newspaper like the Capital Gazette.
The Gazette is similar to the majority of newspapers out there. They are small, scrappy operations filled with people of diverse backgrounds, all bonded by the adrenaline rush of deadlines and a higher purpose of empowering readers with information important to their daily lives. These local newspapers are more concerned with property taxes or the jobs brought by a new corporation moving to town — not presidential politics.
The vast majority of journalists work long hours for shit pay. We don’t take orders from “the elite.” Rupert Murdoch or George Soros does not send us talking points. We go to work like everyone else, but choose to spend our time telling your stories so the rest of the community can better understand itself.
So when you rail against “the media,” I have a hard time figuring out who you mean. Are you talking about me? Are you talking about those dead men and women in Annapolis?
I wrote this because I am the only journalist most of my friends know and felt the need to put a face on the violence. Just like after other mass shootings, the armchair pundits have already come out to denigrate those who just died for their own political ends. I’m hoping those reading this will not fall into the same trap.
The night of the shooting, a colleague asked, “Without making it about the current or previous administration, what do we do, as Americans, to stop the division that causes this violence?”
My response: Talk to people. Face-to-face, if you can. Talk to those who make you uncomfortable. Listen before you speak. Ask questions. Try to be fair and see people how they see themselves. Don’t cede any ground to those who seek to twist the facts.
You know, the things that good journalists do.
Alex Pickett is a journalist based in St. Petersburg. He currently works for Courthouse News Service. His recent and past work can be found at alexpickett.com.