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Friday, September 21, 2018

I did not personally know the journalists killed in Maryland last week. But I felt that I knew them well.

They were working in their Capital Gazette newsroom in a building located just outside of Annapolis, the Maryland state capital and were targeted by a man with a 12-gauge shotgun. The shooter had been the subject of a column on harassment from years past. He unsuccessfully brought suit against the newspaper. He never let it go, based on social media evidence.

These were not high-profile journalists yelling out questions to a White House press secretary. They all probably would have been more comfortable at a local school board hearing, zoning meeting or writing the profile about the child who overcame an obstacle to succeed, covering the local arts fair or the final exciting minutes between two local high school football rivals. Their jobs were very similar to ours at this newspaper. These writers were parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, just like us.

I intersected with the Capital Gazette at different parts of my life.

As a teen, I attended a Jewish overnight camp located in Annapolis. My late father managed a furniture store on Main Street in town. During my three years at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, my dad set up a summer subscription to the Capital. He did it because I was a die-hard Orioles fan, and the Capital offered the latest possible chance to read about my favorite baseball team. During my first year at the small Annapolis-based camp, I met kids from all over the East Coast and several campers from Israel. On nights before bedtime I’d read articles from the Capital to my bunkmates. But it didn’t end there.

After the first year, the bunkmates demanded that the subscriptions continue, and if they were baseball fans or not, they wanted to read the “little paper from Annapolis.” In fact, after college when I’d run into friends from camp, even the Israeli friends, they’d ask about the Capital, and if I still read it.

When I’d work for my father at his furniture store, it was the Capital that would be on the recliner in the front of his business for slow times of the work day. My dad would be quick to find his store’s ad in the paper.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, where I studied as a journalism major, I applied for two summer internships during my junior year. One was with the former Eastern Shore Times, which was located in Ocean City, Maryland. The other was the Capital. I chose Ocean City because it was a resort town and I wanted to be a bit farther away from home. But I remember interviewing with Capital Editor Ed Casey and Sports Editor Joe Gross. And later, I remember running into Gross many times while covering Maryland sports. He always helped me with the kind of advice a then-very-new sports reporter needed.

I have several friends and colleagues in the business of community journalism who at one time worked and learned the trade of this often-difficult business in the Capital newsroom. At the Maryland-D.C.-Delaware Press Association annual awards competition, the Capital was, over the years, cited for its high journalistic standards.

The word “family” has been used in recent days by the colleagues of the deceased to describe the Capital’s newsroom. But the same word came from elected officials, police officials and many others who work in the same orbit as the local media to describe the Capital and its staff.

Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. These names most probably are new to you.

But they represented exactly the kind of relationship that a newspaper staff would have with its readers, advertisers and community. The Capital covers its community because, to the staff, Annapolis is the story.

These staffers certainly had no desire to “become the story.”

We all wish they never were.

By Phil Jacobs