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There's an old adage, "No one looks back at the end of their life and wishes they'd worked more."
It's cliche, dated, and completely untrue when used in reference to journalists.
Yesterday, five people died in Annapolis, Maryland. Four of the victims were journalists that dedicated their lives to a cause the gravity of which few can grasp. People generally have passions outside their jobs. Work is simply a way of subsidizing those interests, whether they be personal or familial.
That's not the case with journalists. The work is their passion. It goes beyond an eight hour day. It robs reporters of time with their families and friends. It is the cause of many failed relationships, poor doctor visits, and an overall lifestyle that most would shy from. But for the few who love it, it's a calling.
I was a newspaper editor and publisher. Until November of 2017, I ran a couple of media properties that were under the umbrella of a larger corporation. During my tenure, I worked with a racially and socioeconomic diverse group of reporters from backgrounds that in no way mirrored each other. Yet, they all had something in common. On a Friday night, when everyone else was starting the weekend, they were in a newsroom filing stories and finishing designs. They worked tirelessly under the pressure of deadlines and almost certain animosity from the audience. And during my decade in the profession, I've not met one of them who wasn't happy to give their time to the craft.
Many move on from the career. Whether by choice or circumstance, journalism is a fickle profession. I am the casualty of a corporate merger in the age of media venture capitalism, and I've spent a good deal of time pondering whether I should return to the fray. Eight months later, I miss it in a way that words cannot do justice.
Most of my colleagues who have moved on shared the same sentiment. They work now to provide more than anything else and there is no shame in that. As I said, the career is fickle, and like any passion, breaks are needed. Still, these colleagues yearn to return to the game. They eye opportunities down the road and pine for stories left untold.
As an editor and publisher, my job's primary function was to create an equitable bottom line. Revenue vs. expense was the sport. News, features, and columns took a back seat to chasing profit margins. And as my career grew, the time I allocated to reporting lessened. When I was laid off, I left dozens of unfinished pieces on my desk, reams of notes and interviews that will never culminate into an enterprise that could change lives. That is my greatest defeat, not losing my job to the ides of economic tension. And that is how journalists view the world, in terms of the story that could have been.
After yesterday's tragedy, Chase Crook, a reporter for the Capital Gazette tweeted, "I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow." This tweet in its brevity, its directness, and its frankness epitomizes the spirit of journalism. In the face of fear, death, and anarchy, true journalists persevere. Reporters, editors, designers, photographers, and broadcasters all belong to a fraternity that is defined by a simple code of never quitting.
The field is a community. Brothers and sisters who share exploits and success. There is competition, but it's routinely shadowed by collaboration. Journalists are public servants. They're far too often unsung heroes. I don't know anyone at the Capital Gazette, but I can say without a doubt the passion they displayed in putting out a paper today would have been no different if yesterday's tragic events never took place.