It’s been a challenging time for newspapers around the country in recent years and also for the journalists they employ. Slumping advertising and circulation revenue, combined with the sale of hometown newspapers to large corporations and the rising costs of newsprint, have contributed to massive job cuts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the newspaper publishing industry lost over half of its employees, from approximately 412,000 to 174,000, between January 2001 to September 2016. The number of reporters, editors, photographers and video editors in 2017 was 39,210, down 45 percent from 2004.
As if morale was not already shaken, the news media has been facing near-daily attacks by President Donald Trump and his “fake news” mantra. On the campaign trail in December 2015 he told a Grand Rapids, Mich., rally, “I would never kill (journalists), but I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting people.”
While newspapers and journalists strive for objectivity, personal bias or flat-out inaccuracies can and do creep in, but most often unintentionally and without malice. The pressure of being the first outlet to release “breaking news” online also contributes to sometimes inaccurate reporting.
On June 28, the verbal attacks on journalists turned physical — and deadly — for employees at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. A lone gunman walked into the newspaper office with a rifle and shot and killed five employees. The shooter, 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos, reportedly had a longstanding dispute with the newspaper after it wrote about a criminal harassment case against him. He reportedly sued the newspaper for defamation, but lost the case.
There is no evidence to prove that Ramos was influenced by the current atmosphere against journalists. In fact, Trump tweeted his condolences on June 28. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” he said.
What skeptics and critics of the media sometimes forget is that journalists are moms and dads, sons and daughters, quite often people of faith who see their profession as a noble way to make their hometowns and country a better place.
For the most part, journalists not only follow their industry’s codes of ethics, they live up to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information. They should strive to respect, with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals. They should not stoop to defamation (n. 2497).”
Words, as all journalists know, are powerful. That is why care must be taken in reporting the news fairly and accurately. It’s also why our elected leaders need to practice their leadership by avoiding inflammatory statements, name-calling and falsehoods. The catechism also addresses this practice.
“The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity (n. 2484).”
May we all do a better job of loving our neighbor by choosing and using our words carefully — on social media and in person. The five Capital Gazette employees who lost their lives in the line of duty would approve of this message.