President's Column: No Usual Summer in the USA

09 Jul 2018 8:57 PM | Dane Claussen

By Dianne Bragg

University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa

My thoughts for this particular column were pretty straightforward.

It’s July, but it feels like August.

Soon, though, it will be October and we will be wearing jackets in Utah.

A quick reminder to check the AJHA website for convention details.

A hopeful note that some of us will be together in D.C. for AEJMC. 

And, oh yes, best wishes for a happy 4th of July. 

Just a usual mid-summer laundry list.

But, the usual this summer has changed.

When a man armed with a gun chose to murder five people at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., what has become usual hit really close to home for many of us. 

The gun violence in our country has taken on surreal proportions, with no sign of it abating any time soon. It has become our usual.

The vilification of journalists has reached extraordinary heights.

The Oval Office historically has not always been pleased with the press, despite what is written in the Constitution. This is not the first time those who hold power have gone after journalists who try to hold them accountable.

At some point, though, in the 21st century, it would seem that our leadership would condemn violent rhetoric in no uncertain terms. But, they do not. This, too, has become our usual.

As a columnist I follow wrote last week, we seem to forget that words matter.

Might this murderer have picked up a gun no matter what? Maybe.

Or, did the constant barrage of words calling journalists evil, unpatriotic, criminal, and “fake,” along with encouragement for physical violence against them, possibly push him over the edge? This, too, is our usual.

What do we tell our students who are learning the journalism craft? 

How do we teach them to do their jobs as they withstand such an environment?

I have a son whose first journalism job was with a Maryland newspaper and who now works for another paper in the area. We all have friends or family in the field. What do we say to them? How do we support them in this new usual?

As historians, we try to pay attention as we look to the past to help us navigate the present. And, for an example of what we hold dear, we need look no further than the Capital Gazette staff who, while in shock and grief, put out their paper.

I think no matter how bleak it may seem, our best journalists will continue to stand up, call out questions and speak the truth. That is our usual.

Because, in the end, the pen really is mightier than the sword.

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