Archive for June, 2019

Remembering, honoring: ties to the Capital Gazette

Maryland has a particularly close-knit, overlapping journalism network. Competitors often become colleagues as we move from one place to the next, then sometimes back again.

For me, three daily newspapers, in particular, feel like a triad, in size and in scope.

Most of my 19 years working in Maryland has been at two of them — The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown and The Frederick News-Post.

The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, where my connections are more secondary, is the third leg.

Even if we don’t know our counterparts, in this newspaper group, we intrinsically understand each other’s work, roles and travails. We each do much the same thing — monitor lots of government bodies; provide a forum for debate; document achievements and setbacks in words and images — but in different counties.

On June 28, 2018, I was driving from Maryland to New York to attend a long-awaited milestone high school reunion.

About halfway through my trip, a newspaper friend in Virginia called to ask if I heard about a rumor of a shooting at The Capital Gazette. I hadn’t.

It turned out to be true. For the rest of the day and evening, an odd haze divided my heart — joy at reconnecting with childhood friends tempered by sadness and grief over a newsroom massacre.


Whenever we talk about what happened, it’s forever appropriate to say and honor who was killed that day:

• Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist

• Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications

• Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor

• Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant

• John McNamara, 56, a sports writer who also covered news and edited the Bowie Blade-News and the Crofton-West County Gazette

Andrea Chamblee (left), the widow of John McNamara, and Erica Fischman, the widow of Gerald Fischman, at a community event in Annapolis in July 2018 to honor the Capital Gazette and victims of the shootings. (Photo by Andy Schotz)

By chance, I got to meet McNamara about a year earlier, after a Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association awards banquet.

That day, Maryland’s cohesive network was at play in how that happened. Glen Cullen, an editor who worked with me at The Gazette weekly chain (unrelated to The Capital Gazette), used to work with McNamara in Annapolis and invited him to join us.

Quickly, I learned during that conversation over drinks and a meal that McNamara used to work at The Herald-Mail, a while before I got there.

I know of at least one other Hagerstown tie to the victims. A while back, Hiaasen once wrote a wonderfully fun feature story about my Hagerstown newsroom’s practice of running photos of large, distinctive vegetables people grew in their gardens.


Shortly after the shootings last year, SPJ’s board and staff asked ourselves what so many others did: How can we help the Capital Gazette?

One way, we decided, was to gather donations, especially after we learned of a benefit fund.

We instantly came up with $10,000. That included $3,500 from three SPJers donating their budgeted expense-reimbursement money and $6,500 from previous sales of our First Amendment T-shirts.

For six more months, all SPJ T-shirt sales money was earmarked for the Capital Gazette.

Hundreds of orders poured in, originating in nearly every state, Washington, D.C., and Canada. Some buyers included poignant notes, sharing the ache in their hearts.

SPJ channeled this caring and kindness into another $10,000 donation.

Our total of $20,000 was divided between two funds — $10,000 for Capital Gazette survivors and their families; $10,000 for University of Maryland journalism scholarships in the name of some victims.

Our T-shirt sales were responsible for $15,000 of that total.


Capital Gazette staff and families at a community event in Annapolis in July 2018 to honor the newspaper and victims of the shootings.

At first, many people who wanted to help the Capital Gazette donated money through a GoFundMe account that Madi Alexander, a data journalist for Bloomberg Government, quickly set up after the shootings.

Soon, that GoFundMe account was folded into one started by Tronc (as Tribune was known at the time), the Capital Gazette’s parent company.

The Tronc account was through the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County.

I was heartened by how much that account swelled in the days, weeks and months after the shootings — surpassing $100,000, then $500,000, then $1 million. The flood of support was a comforting way to counter the sadness.

Recently, I checked on the final result.

Amy Francis, the Community Foundation’s director of development, told me that the fund remains open. However, collections to directly benefit Capital Gazette survivors and families stopped on Dec. 31. A Community Foundation fund can’t help only specific people; it has to have a wider purpose and is now meant for “broader community healing.”

In total, $1.944 million was collected through that fund. Of that, $111,000 was put aside to keep the fund active into 2019 and beyond.

After an extensive review process, a committee distributed the rest, $1.833 million, to victims’ families and Capital Gazette employees — a total of 35 people.

Francis said the Community Foundation got advice from communities where other mass shootings happened — Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida.

“This is our hometown. This is our hometown paper …,” Francis told me. “We were honored to provide this service.”

The Community Foundation also hosts a University of Maryland, College Park, scholarship fund set up to honor the five victims. Hiaasen taught there. McNamara and Fischman were alumni.

The journalism school at College Park is named after the late Philip Merrill, whose family owned the Capital Gazette for many years.

When Francis and I talked earlier this year, the scholarship fund had about $170,000. It has grown since then, and the first two scholarships have been awarded. (The University of Maryland also established separate awards to honor McNamara, Fischman and Hiaasen.)


The Capital Gazette is never far from my thoughts.

I know the Annapolis neighborhood where the staff, until recently, had a temporary home.

A friend and former colleague of mine in Frederick has rejoined the Capital Gazette staff (more cross-pollination).

I’ve met some of the staff and worked with them on a Sunshine Week project. I read their social media posts — their humor; their proud moments; their up-and-down struggles to cope with a new, difficult normal.

(A side note: Please support photojournalist Paul Gillespie’s wonderful photo project — Journalists Matter: Faces of the Capital Gazette)

(Side note 2: Show your support for the Capital Gazette, and for all journalism, by subscribing. It’s a damn good paper.)

(Side note 3: The state of Maryland is showing its support by designating June 28, every year, as Freedom of the Press Day.)

When I think of my peers in Annapolis, I try to heed editor Rick Hutzell’s eloquent advice: Remember the victims, but also focus on friends and coworkers left behind: Gillespie, Chase Cook, Joshua McKerrow, E.B. Furgurson III, Selene San Felice, Rachael Pacella, Danielle Ohl, Phil Davis and many others.

Today, as always, I’m right there with you, my friends.

Andy Schotz is SPJ’s Region 2 director and an editor at The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md.


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