Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From the perspective of a former reporter: Thoughts after The Capital Gazette shootings June 30, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I’M A FORMER NEWSPAPER reporter and photographer. As such, the killings of five employees in The Capital Gazette newsroom just days ago affects me in a way it may not non-journalists.

The single phrase that repeated through my mind: He (the suspect) really did kill the messengers (newspaper employees). The alleged shooter apparently held a grudge against the Gazette for writing about his conviction for stalking a woman.

Too often I’ve heard people attack and criticize reporters for doing their jobs of reporting the news. Journalists are blamed for whatever is negative. It’s an unfair accusation. Do not kill the messenger. The reporter did not cause the bad thing that now banners the newspaper.

If journalists report only the good news or whatever is spun to them, then they are nothing more than pawns, propaganda tools, mouthpieces. These are difficult times to be a journalist with the constant spewing of the words “fake news” and open hostility and name-calling at the highest levels of government. Democracy needs a free and open press. The press is not the enemy.

I experienced firsthand efforts to suppress my reporting while working in the profession decades ago. In small town Minnesota. How dare I attend a school board meeting and quote a teacher who didn’t want his comment, made at an open, public meeting, printed. My editor backed me up. But I had to endure the ire of that teacher and his superintendent for the rest of my stay in that rural community.

Likewise, a prominent businessman in the same county seat town harassed me for quoting him at a city planning meeting. When I moved to another job with a regional daily working in a satellite news bureau, I encountered the same hostility from a superintendent who didn’t like my story on a student walk-out. He treated me with absolute contempt, behavior which I found (and still find) totally unprofessional for an educator.

Then there was the sheriff’s department employee who wanted to withhold public information from me when I was gathering facts in a drug case.

There are those who will argue that the media deserve the contempt and criticism heaped on them. There are those who will say media people are nothing but a bunch of biased liberals. There are those who will blame journalists for anything and everything. Everyone is entitled to an opinion in a free country. Not all journalists are fair or balanced in their reporting. I agree with that.

But I also come from that perspective of working in the news profession. I know how hard I worked (long and odd hours with low pay) to accurately and fairly gather and report the news. I cared that I got the story right. I think most journalists do.

A reporter at the Gazette tweeted after the shootings: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” That tweet shows remarkable strength when a man with a gun has just killed the messengers in a Maryland newsroom.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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17 Responses to “From the perspective of a former reporter: Thoughts after The Capital Gazette shootings”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    Reporters who ethically report events are definitely needed. However, reporters who ‘create’ their news stories by embellishing(?) reality do so, not with the goal of accurate reporting, but with other goals in mind—–further their own biases, sell the publication they work for. Ethical/moral constraints have disappeared and vengeance is meted out by anyone who feels they have some type of personal “right” to do so, in order to satisfy some (real or imaginary) wrong that has occurred. “Pandora’s Box” has been opened with no hope(?) of future closure. The phrase “You can’t legislate morality” has never been more true.

    • Opinions, editorializing and analyzing need to be reserved for the editorial page and for those media programs that are commentary in nature. So opinion definitely has a place in the press. I learned in journalism school that the editorial page is the heart of the newspaper. Both in staff and reader opinions.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    After a particularly nasty scandal at the Minneapolis Police Department, my wise and very funny sergeant remarked, “having a thousand cops means having at least one of everything.”

    Having a couple hundred thousand people in a city means having at least one of absolutely everything, which also means that anyone who assumes a public role, be they a politician or a journalist is exposed to absolutely everything.

    It is bad enough that our civic leaders and journalists have to endure mind-numbing four hour meetings – but then to be harassed afterwards makes it all the more miserable.

    • I can’t even begin to tell you how many meetings I attended with pages and pages of notes to condense into a single news story on a tight deadline. ANYONE WHO THINKS BEING A JOURNALIST IS EASY DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE PROFESSION. Everyone is our critic. I loved being a reporter back in the day. I don’t think I would love it so much today.

  3. sheketechad Says:

    So heartbreaking, this senseless loss of life. How admirable that they carried on.

    The voice of reason is being silenced by loud shouting, bullying and faux outrage everywhere. I don’t know how true journalists perform today, or where to actually find them. Try tracing the facts to a story where you simply want a clear outline of facts; not opinions, assumptions or anonymous sources. Read the same story by perceived party line support ideologiy outlets, and then go outside the US to news outlets to get even a third perspective. Then try to determine what are the actual facts on the matter. Who has the time for that? So people retreat to their own ‘guys’. And ”we the people”, suffer.

    I’ve seen everything from the guy worked for the government so this was a triggered false flag event to distract from the Rosenstein/Wray testimony, to that the open call for the killing of journalists of far-righter Milo contributed.

    What I see is an obviously mentally unhealthy person had access to a weapon and took the lives of his fellow citizens. I doubt we will ever know what clicked inside of the brain to take this destructive action. I do see anger and irrationality all around and increasing calls for violence by my fellow citizens against other fellow citizens.

    How will this nation recover?

  4. Murphy's Law Says:

    Well said Audrey. Even if the reporter had gotten the story completely wrong, that still wouldn’t justify murdering 5 people and injuring others. A simple retraction and apology would have been sufficient. But this idiot simply didn’t like the fact that what he did was reported in the paper!

    You’ve certainly paid your dues over the years!! I have no doubt you researched your material thoroughly and worked diligently to walk that middle, unbiased line.

    When will this craziness end?
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

  5. Gay Lynch Says:

    Well said. We can not be a free democracy without a free press. Be strong. Thank you.

  6. Bernadette Says:

    Thanks for your examples of how you felt the ire of people you were trying to cover fairly as a journalist. A big problem today is that readers and viewers do not understand the difference between reporting and opinion columns. Granted – some publishers and television stations are trying to blur the lines today but basic reporting of the facts vs. analyzing or commenting on the facts are concept that people need to understand and accept in a democracy.

  7. Gunny Says:

    I’ll try this again (to post).

    Being a journalist, like a lot of jobs, is not easy. The paper had to defend itself in court about the article and won. Perpetrator went out and threatened several members of the paper and as I understand it, they had 13 to 15 charges against him and dropped them (all that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing). This was nothing short of tragic!

    I have empathy for journalist BUT, I think I have run into the wrong ones! They seem to be bent on creating a story that fits their mental picture of the situation which may but more often than not reveal actual reality.

    Stories such as this I follow. I try to see what could / should have been done in advance to prevent this type of situation. In this case, it goes back to those individuals who failed to follow up on those charges, which if any one of them proved true, this man would have been entered into the NICS database as non-eligible to purchase ANY firearm.

    I once got accosted by a reporter trying to do an expose’ on military recruiters and quotas. He asked if we were under a “quota” system. I absently minded admitted that we were. THIS reporter was different. I called him back to explain: The military has (officially) no quota system. There are no “extras” bonuses for enlisting someone. However, in his job, if he didn’t write any columns, just how long would he be employed? So while we had no official quota, we did have an arbitrary quota to reflect objectives and benchmark our performance and how well we met those objectives.

    Sadly, the other reporters that I have been confronted ( who generated rather hostile meetings) the reporters were seeking confirmation of their story as they knew it, not additional information that would change the narrative. These folks were not open to knew information, certainly not information that would change their perceived story and outcome.


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