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Gazette Editorial: ‘Person of the Year’ honors are reminder

Rachel Pacella, formerly of Ocean Pines, and Rick Hutzell, who started his newspaper career in Ocean City, are among those honored by Time magazine this week as its “Person of the Year.”

They and the rest of the staff at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis join Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post reporter who was murdered in Turkey for writing columns critical of the Saudi crown prince, two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who now sit in prison in Myanmar for reporting on a mass killing committed by the government, and Maria Ressa, who faces imprisonment for publishing stories critical of the Philippine president.

As Marylanders and many others know, five Capital Gazette staffers were shot and killed in the Annapolis newspaper’s office last June because the paper had reported on the shooter’s guilty plea in a criminal harassment case.

In an extraordinary act of courage and commitment to the public, the surviving staff put out a paper the next day and went on to give their own painful account of the massacre.

Time presented its persons of the year as “The Guardians of the
Truth” — the writers, reporters, editors and others in the media who do their jobs despite the consequences.

And the consequences these days are substantial, even when they don’t involve the extremes of murder or imprisonment. Journalism, especially at community newspapers like the Capital Gazette, is a public trust, even when the public doesn’t return that trust.

Social media smears and propaganda, politically inspired defamations and bumper-sticker sound bites have combined to foster an image of reporters and editors as a threat to, rather than protectors of, civilized society.

Yet, it is this supposedly civilized society that murders and imprisons them for doing a job that an increasing number of people wish they weren’t doing.

Time’s Persons of the Year recognizes these difficulties and sacrifices, while the honorees like the Capital Gazette staff remind the rest of us that journalistic principles include doing the job no matter what.