June 28 will always be a hard day for any journalist – that was the day, exactly one year ago, that five newsroom staffers were lost to the hands of a gunman who shot his way into The Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, barring a grudge against the local paper. While the gunman was later arrested and will soon stand trial, The Capital Gazette is only one of many newsrooms that have faced losses in the past year.
Despite this, journalists continue to risk their lives every day, facing threats not only out in the field, but in their own newsrooms. Growing anti-journalist sentiment around the world has increased the dangers faced by reporters, whether they’re working in a war zone or their local communities.
This year, the state of Maryland is marking the tragic day with a message of support, naming June 28 Maryland Freedom of the Press Day. In honor of those lost, the city of Annapolis will host a summit on preventing gun violence, while The Capital Gazette, Baltimore Sun Media and Tribune Publishing will dedicate a memorial garden to the victims, with a rose bush being planted for each of the five lost Capital Gazette staffers. In addition, there will be a concert and community gathering in the evening, as well as a moment of silence at 2:33 p.m.
As the first anniversary of the tragic shooting approaches, a new foundation, the Fallen Journalists Memorial (FJM) Foundation, is seeking to create a Fallen Journalists Memorial in Washington, D.C. The charge is being led by David Dreier, chairman of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of The Capital Gazette. The memorial project has congressional support as well, with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Kevin Hern (R-OK) introducing a bill this week that would allow the memorial to be constructed on federal land. If enacted, the memorial will be privately funded.
The memorial, which would honor the lost Capital Gazette staffers as well as the dozens of journalists lost each year in the line of duty, has already garnered support from the Annenberg Foundation and the Michael and Jackie Ferro Foundation, both of which have already committed to providing initial funding for the project.
According to the FJM Foundation website, the memorial will “pay tribute to the reporters, photojournalists, producers, editors and others who have died while performing their jobs as journalists.”
In addition to the planned memorial, the Capital Gazette staffers have been honored through a scholarship to aspiring young writers. The scholarship will “provide an annual award for select students pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park,” the alma mater of victims John McNamara and Gerald Fischman. (Robert Hiaasen was a part-time journalism professor at the school, as well.) Two students were awarded the scholarship this spring.
Journalists should not have to lose their lives for bringing us information that helps us to be informed and engaged citizens. On this inaugural Maryland Freedom of the Press Day, we should all remember the value of journalism. Despite the hostility and insults that dismiss our jobs as “fake news,” our industry has continued on, stronger than ever, delivering the news daily to anyone who wants it.
Arantxa Hernandez is a Venezuelan writer, copywriter and designer currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Savannah College of Art and Design.