A long, long time ago at a newspaper not so far away, two Tampa Tribune reporters did their job and wrote some stories.
One was about Cuban exiles holding an election in the U.S. for a provisional government cabinet to take over the Cuban government from then-president Fidel Castro, another was about Castro arguably having a legal claim to a park in Ybor City, and a series was about a USF professor who was raising money on the side for Islamic terrorists.
They resulted in death threats to myself, fellow reporter Michael Fechter and the staff of the Tribune and sister television station WFLA.
My story’s threats eventually died down. Michael’s, not so much.
Media General added tight security measures to the brand new fortress we all moved into, including card readers with photo IDs at the entrance, security guards to verify IDs and cameras in every conceivable place – reporters, being naturally curious, spent extra time in the bathrooms trying to figure out where they were.
The atmosphere was not one of safety, but of fear and imprisonment.
It was a feeling reminiscent of the first time I went through the brand new metal detector at the Daytona Beach courthouse; the first time I interviewed a witness in jail and heard several prison doors slamming behind me, Get Smart-style; the first time I flew on a plane and had to be searched; the first and only time I was detained at an airport in Havana in a chain link cage topped with barbed wire and guarded by a soldier holding an M-16.
Stay in this business long enough, and eventually, you will think, or know, that someone is following you. You eventually will say to yourself, or to your editor, “This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us,” like Thomas Marquardt, the Annapolis, Md. Capital Gazette’s former editor and publisher, said to an attorney representing the paper in a defamation lawsuit filed in 2012 by Jarrod W. Ramos, the man who eventually did.
But you continue to do your job.
The front page of the Capital Gazette the day after five of its staff members were murdered is an amazing testimony to the newsroom’s professionalism and commitment to journalism, to the First Amendment and to their colleagues.
Someone in mourning had to put the names of their murdered friends in alphabetical order for the lead of the story. Someone in shock had to start finding and loading stories on the website that the victims had written, as a tribute. Someone with nerves of steel had to actually interview the suspected killer’s aunt.
In journalism class at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., Miss Bullock did not tell us that could happen. I did not tell my University of Tampa journalism class either. Maybe it’s time to start.
But it’s not so much that journalism is a dangerous business, it’s that life is a dangerous business.
Nightclubs, schools, marathons, newsrooms – it doesn’t matter where you are, the threat is there, and fortresses and guns and surveillance cameras and security guards will not always be able to stop a mass murderer.
Remember what they said after Sept. 11 – we must not let it stop us from living our lives and doing our jobs, or they win.
Everyone on the Capital did their job.
In doing ours, we stand with you.
– Cindy Lane