Brian Hamilton: Forward toward a more perfect Union
July 3, 2018
Loud shouts echo out of the lobby, jolting us to attention from our daily grind.
Louder still, they continue and several of us stride from our work seeking the source.
It's all about the paper.
Someone didn't like seeing his arrest story. Someone didn't like being photographed. Someone isn't happy how their advertisement turned out. Someone says we lean too far this way — or the other way — depending on the day. Or, sometimes, someone just didn't get his paper delivered that morning.
And they are angry.
In the wake of last week's horrific news of what happened at the offices of the Capital Gazette, those moments come to mind too easily for those who work in journalism.
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After all, what if we were startled by the sounds of shooting rather than shouting?
I don't write that to equate angry readers with the person who sought blood in Annapolis, and certainly not to strike fear among all our colleagues.
But we know the truth. We know we often write about people in some of their lowest moments.
We'll tell ourselves, and often them, it's nothing personal. We're doing our job.
But for the subjects of those stories, it is personal. And with the intimacy of a small community like our own, the reporting and reading of such stories can hit home at a whole 'nother level.
DOING THE JOB
We know we'll do difficult stories when we take on this role as journalists. We know working in a small town means we might meet up with the subjects at the grocery store the same day.
We emphasize the importance of being professionals, being fair and getting the whole story. If we make such efforts, the subjects of those stories still won't like what they read, but at the very least they will have been given an opportunity to share their side. On several occasions, I've had those very people tell me later they understand we aren't "out to get anyone," but are simply trying to do our job.
That job, though often thankless, is a vital one. Our newsroom focuses our efforts on coverage of our community. It's why you rarely see Associated Press or other wire content on the front page of our print editions. We are here to keep you informed of what's happening here, as we've always done each morning in The Union and now throughout the day and night at TheUnion.com.
Even though we live, work and play in a small community, it's a big job keeping up with all that's happening in western Nevada County on any given day, meanwhile looking to the big picture and key issues we face.
It's a lot to juggle. And, yes, sometimes some things fall through the cracks and, yes, sometimes we make mistakes. We're human. But we do our best to correct our errors, or those who have provided us inaccurate info, and publish them on page A2 of The Union.
But that certainly doesn't always satisfy folks, and they're not shy about shouting that into my voicemail. Of course, I often let go of such vitriol and chalk it up as part of the job, along with the perks of long hours, low pay and high stress. It's a gig that presents a noble pursuit, one that never seems to end when we leave the office or close the laptop. There's always that next edition, the next story, the next call or email to return — all of which we're reminded as we rest our head, if not our minds, on the pillow each night.
FRIGHTENING AMOUNT OF ANGER
The nightmare that woke me from my sleep seemed so real. The shouting voice I heard from the office was familiar, one of our regular readers who devours the paper each day and likes to share his thoughts on it with me.
I appreciate his feedback, if not the loud and angry manner he often delivers it.
But once I reached the lobby, I didn't see him. Or anyone.
And turning back toward the newsroom, I saw none of my coworkers at their desks. Instead, I saw blood-covered carnage of faceless bodies on the floor.
I sat straight up in bed, unable to shake it.
I'm certain many others have been haunted by similar dreams, and not just journalists in the past week. With the frequency of shootings, it seems only a matter of time till such violence strikes all aspects of our society.
But what concerns me most in the wake of five journalists shot dead in the workplace is the anger that apparently drove the man to commit such a heinous act. The man reportedly had a history with the newspaper, having lost a defamation lawsuit against it.
So many of the mass shootings that have shaken communities all across the country have reportedly been done by deranged individuals. And while it's easy to classify anyone capable of committing such an act as being deranged, it seems anger was a driving force behind the shooter in Annapolis.
And it's anger, the level of which we're seeing in our society right now, that has me up at night.
WHO WILL LEAD THE WAY?
Today, we celebrate our nation at a time when we seem so divided, so angry.
Americans all across the country are making their voices heard, outraged over what they're seeing out of Washington D.C., where we're reminded elections have consequences and November 2016 led to the stark change in course on many issues President Trump promised, if elected — including one change so stark that the country's outrage led him to change course in his own policy of separating families that cross the border illegally.
Voicing your opinion is participating in our democracy.
Vilifying those who disagree — you know, your fellow Americans — does more damage than good.
It pains me to see friends or family take such hard-line stances — and far too often only echoing party lines — that their "conversations" devolve into name-calling or casting judgment of someone's morality based upon what they post in social media. My own loved ones often post memes or jokes based on their political perspective, of which I often disagree. But it's absurd to think that could make me love them any less, or somehow make me better than them just because we're not on the same page politically.
Some of the darkest days in our nation's history were due to some people seeing themselves as superior to others. During a recent trip to D.C., I couldn't help but be moved by the monuments, those to soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and those to our leaders who made our country move forward.
The words of Jefferson, Lincoln and King, inscribed on their monuments, spoke to me.
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness …"
"It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Reading those words, and seeing such a crisis in leadership with the pessimism and pettiness of our two parties, I wonder where these high-minded leaders are today, those capable of appealing to our best intentions and pulling us together in compromise to move our people forward in our continued struggle toward a more perfect Union.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.
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