No news is bad news

Last week, like thousands of other reporters in the U.S. and around the world, I went out to cover something I figured would be relatively inconsequential after hearing the fire truck sirens: a minor gas leak at a new government building.


Nothing about the half hour or so I spent on the scene was riveting or earth shattering. It was an accident, and accidents happen. But minor details matter, and after receiving three different accounts of the instrument that caused the line to break, I finally got it right. I don’t think anyone who provided me the information had ill intentions, but that’s how news works: you get something wrong, and people correct you on it.


Luckily, when I’ve made mistakes over the last three years at The Grundy Register, folks have been pretty forgiving as long as I have a chance to explain myself, and even if I express a viewpoint that irks a chunk of our readership, I’ve been able to foster friendships across the ideological spectrum. It’s one of my favorite aspects of this job.


Five newspaper staffers in Maryland will never get to do this job again, and watching the tragedy unfold as names leaked out forced me into a moment of introspection: is being controversial worth it? In an industry constantly proclaimed to be lying on its financial deathbed—in which you’re about 20 times more likely to be told you’re doing something wrong than right—are these vendetta attacks going to become the new normal? If the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were metaphors for a larger loss, then so was the carnage at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.


No matter what he says about the media (and no matter how bigger outlets report on the situation), this incident was not Donald Trump’s fault. The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, had a longstanding personal beef with the newspaper dating back to a story in 2011 about his Facebook stalking habits, and nothing indicates that the ambush had anything to do with state or national politics. He was just an angry guy who took out his frustrations in the worst way possible.


But for someone like me, that reality is sobering. Most of the stories we write here have nothing to do with the federal government or the big nationwide issues of the day: they’re pieces about the things—good and bad—happening in Grundy County, the people doing the things and why the things are happening.


In this day and age, the practitioners of so many professions here in the U.S. feel that they’re under siege like never before from forces beyond their control—teachers, cops, journalists and farmers, to name a few. Horrors like the Capital Gazette shooting remind us that the freedoms our country was founded upon are constantly being challenged, and it’s up to us to protect them. If we don’t, no one else will.


Speaking of freedom, I got a chance to do something I’d never done before on Friday afternoon: I drove to the Waterloo Airport and interviewed a Grundy County soldier who was returning home just in time for the Fourth of July.


Lee Voss, his wife Holly and their children have already given up so much for their country, and a conversation with a serviceman about wearing a full uniform in 100 plus Afghan desert heat and transporting injured cohorts in an airplane so that they might be treated and have a chance at life always puts the day to day struggles of a small time news writer into their proper perspective.


Lee, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for almost 30 years of service to the U.S.A., and I hope you enjoy a cold one on this Independence Day. You’ve most certainly earned it.