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Nate McCullough: Why a reporter’s tweet appears on our masthead
It’s a rallying cry the press – and country – needs
07122018 GAZETTE
A Capital Gazette newspaper rack displays the day’s front page, Friday, June 29, in Annapolis, Md., a day after a man attacked journalists in the newspaper’s building, killing five. (Patrick Semansky, Associated Press)

“I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook’s tweet after the deadly mass shooting in his newsroom was as bold as it was inspiring, but it was hardly surprising to his fellow journalists.

As another tweet shortly after Cook’s put it simply: “Of course they are.”

Cook’s sentiment was more than just defiance in the face of violence and madness. It was an electronic verbalization of journalism’s creed. 

It’s what journalists do. Our methods of delivery vary from digital signals to printed paper, but the result is the same: We deliver the news. More importantly, we try to deliver the truth in an age in which some have decided that even that is negotiable.

The task is hard enough when everything is going well. It gets harder in tough economic climates. Add weather events or natural disasters, and doing it becomes all the more miraculous. Most of us have been in one or more of these situations and put out the paper.

Save for war correspondents, almost none of us have had to do it in the face of gunfire. And even then, the correspondents went to the war.

On June 28, the war came to the Capital Gazette. After years of taking up so much of journalism’s print space and airwaves, America’s mass shooting epidemic finally trained its cross hairs on journalists themselves.

The rest of us in this profession cried. We said, “There but for the grace of God go I.” But few of us wondered, “What will the surviving Capital Gazette staff members do in the face of such tragedy?”

Because we already knew, even before Cook’s tweet. They’d put out the paper. At a time when they had every right to focus on themselves, they respected the people’s right to know.

Journalism isn’t dead. Their actions are confirmation that it is alive, and it is vigorous.

We’ve had a moment of silence. Now we’re saying something. 

07122018 GAZETTE 2
The Capital Gazette photojournalist Joshua McKerrow, center, works with colleagues June 28, 2018, in a parking garage of a mall in Annapolis, Md., during coverage of the fatal shootings that happened in their paper's newsroom earlier in the day. (Thalia Juarez/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

As a salute to those at the Capital Gazette who lost their lives and those who rallied in the aftermath, The Times is echoing Cook’s rallying cry by replacing for one day its slogan, Honestly Local, on the front-page masthead on Thursday, July 12, with Cook’s tweet. The Forsyth County News and Dawson County News are taking similar action. We invited all newspapers around the country to do the same and hope we have a lot of company.

On Friday, papers can go back to whatever their version is of “All the news that fits.” But for one day, let this profession repeat Cook’s statement again, and remind everyone that we mean it, no matter what: 

We are putting out a damn paper.

Nate McCullough is publications manager of The Times. He wrote this commentary for The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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