It’s 3,555 miles from here to Annapolis in Maryland.
I was barely aware of its existence before last week, and I’d certainly never heard of the Capital-Gazette newspaper.
And yet on Friday morning, I ate my breakfast through tears.
Tears for five members of the world journalism family (yes, we do count our commercial colleagues as family members) gunned down as they worked in their office.
And tears for their workmates who, while mourning their loss and coping with their own post-traumatic stress, moved to a nearby garage and carried on putting out the paper.
When you spend your day writing about new shop openings or product recalls, journalism may not feel like a dangerous profession.
The fact that – across the world – 110 journalists have been killed in the last 18 months is one that can perhaps be easily dismissed.
And yet, there won’t be a single journalist in this country who hasn’t been subjected to online abuse of one kind or another.
Some of it might be laughable, like this minor abuse I received recently.
That’s my new Twitter bio sorted, then… https://t.co/5fpWVI8O2H
— Paul Wiltshire (@Paulwiltshire) May 30, 2018
That came after I defended Leeds Live reporter Stephanie Finnegan over her coverage of Tommy Robinson’s brush with the contempt of court laws – coverage which led to horrific trolling online which was absolutely no laughing matter.
Talking of contempt of court, because it’s not a British case, I can say that the man arrested for the Maryland atrocity seemed to have targeted the Capital-Gazette because of its coverage of a court case he was involved in.
That sort of resentment is the kind that anyone who has sat on the press bench of a court will have experienced.
I can still remember plotting my escape through a window when a family group descended on our office to complain about our treatment of one of their number.
The relative free-for-all of the comments sections on most news websites and the still underpoliced world of social media has enabled 24/7, arms-length, largely anonymous, abuse of journalists to flourish.
If you’re a crime reporter, like my Twitter friend Carl Eve, it’s a nasty fact of life.
I am truly sick of this too. Does any other industry have a management which gives easy opportunity to publicly abuse, insult and humiliate it’s workers?
There is no better way of making your staff feel like worthless, undervalued shit…
And we’re meant to lap it up https://t.co/BU9aF4TODw
— Carl Eve (@CarlEveCrime) June 29, 2018
In fact, we’re not alone in having to put up with such personal abuse. A few minutes on Trip Advisor would be all that’s needed to find examples of allegedly truculent reception staff or clueless waiters highlighted for all the world to see.
But such references aren’t usually accompanied by threats.
And – important though those hospitality roles are, no one putting in a shift at their local hotel or bar would claim to be defending key bulwarks of democracy.
When you factor in the wider political dimension – whether it be Donald Trump calling reporters the enemy of the people or the expansion of the power of dictators such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Viktor Orban – it’s easier to argue that there is a sinister, insidious, continuum of abuse. One that starts with online taunts and ends in newsroom bloodbaths.
As social media firms, lawmakers and law enforcers struggle to keep up – nationally and internationally – what can we do?
There’s no doubt that managers need to be more proactive in supporting their staff.
When I was a news editor, I used to regularly climb on to my high horse in defence of our reporters.
I was prepared to let accusations of lazy journalism go most of the time. But there was an occasion when that last word became journalists. That was a red line, and I forced an apology after pointing out that I had just worked a 55-hour week, including, along with all my staff, a 13-hour day.
But we can’t leave it all to whatever’s left of management. We all need to put aside parochialism and complacency to take a greater interest in the work of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
It’s a point well made by the great Eddie Mair – one of the country’s most effective interviewers – as he announced his move from the BBC yesterday.
Thank you for all the kind words. I appreciate them. But there are journalists in the world who are being shot, jailed, held hostage or forced to work with @corrie_corfield. I’m only changing jobs. So please do something about them. (Not Corrie. She’s lovely. Mainly)
— Eddie Mair (@eddiemair) July 1, 2018
And there are more ideas here on standing shoulder to shoulder with our US friends, and on improving coverage of tragedy.
But I also commend to you this lovely idea from a reporter at another American newspaper.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems more relevant and certainly more poignant now than ever.
Sometimes I go to a random newspaper’s Facebook page and start defending the reporters in the comments because 1. I know they can’t do it for themselves and 2. I can’t do it for myself. It’s not always easy to be Public Enemy One, so I got your back. @JournalistsLike
— Annie Granlund (@OPPAnnie) February 7, 2018
So let’s all find time today – on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments section – to literally put in a good word for a colleague.
And by colleague, I mean any journalist, anywhere, trying to do the best job they can.