Thousands of newspapers and magazines have died over their heyday in the past 50 years. I worked for three of them.
Newspapers come and newspapers go. But the slow death of the Baltimore Sun and its media group, which includes community papers on which I spent half my career, is particularly painful to watch.
These are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind Monday at the dedication of the memorial in Annapolis to the five staff members of the Capital Gazette newspaper murdered three years ago.
There were lots of brave words about the First Amendment and the importance of local newspapers and community journalism. There were, in fact, too many words from a dozen speakers and a long-winded MC that lasted almost two hours on a hot summer day near the Annapolis dock.
That their killer who has already pleaded guilty but is only this week to stand trial on his insanity plea is beyond absurd. And referring to the dead as Guardians of the First Amendment just doesn’t ring true, unless it applies to all journalists.
Unlike the many journalists killed around the world for covering crime and corruption, war, and conflict, the Capital staff members were just doing their jobs in an Annapolis office building. The editor and reporter who had angered the crazed gunman who shot them had been years-long gone from the newspaper.
Killing journalists for being journalists is a horrible thing. Killing newspapers because you can make money doing it is worse.
Jared Ramos may or may not have known what he was doing in the murders on June 28, 2018. But with its purchase of Tribune Publishing in May, Alden Global Capital knows what it is doing. It is the deliberate slow killing of the Sun, the Capital, and the already half-dead community newspapers on which I worked for 21 years.
Lingchi, the Chinese called it. “Slow slicing” or in the more graphic form, “death by a thousand cuts,” a slow, painful, dismembering method of execution reserved for particularly heinous crimes.
The Tribune Co. newspapers have been dying slowly over the two decades it has owned them through bankruptcy and steady attrition. Now the already depleted staffs are being cut further.
Tribune turned down very generous offers to buy the papers led by Maryland businessman Stewart Bainum. His plan was to keep local journalism alive.
Alden has no such plans. They will bleed the papers to death.
We in nonprofit news organizations struggle to replace them with a sustainable business model. We hope that Bainum joins the nonprofit news business in Maryland as he has said he might do.
Otherwise, the new memorial to slain journalists in Annapolis that has at its center an inscription of the First Amendment will be more a tombstone for community journalism.