Yes, of course I’m heartsick. What happened yesterday in Annapolis is simply appalling. I sometimes wonder how much the public knows about how exposed journalists are, and how common the sort of abuse Jarrod Ramos visited upon the Capital Gazette before his shooting spree really is.
It’s been years and years since I’ve worked for a newspaper, but in my experience, we saw guys like Ramos all the time. Most weren’t violent; in fact, none were. But that simmering layer of insanity? All the time.
When I worked the night shift in Columbus, a regular newsroom caller would rail about Queen Elizabeth to whoever would answer the phone. I don’t know who he was, or the names of the voices in his head, but he could go on and on. We were not encouraged to be cruel to callers, so most people just let him run on. One night, an editor picked up just as we were heading to dinner. He said, “OK, what do I need to know?” and put the receiver down on his desk. When we came back 45 minutes later, the guy was still talking.
A man who looked strangely like a brontosaurus (sorry, I know brontosauruses have a new name now, but I can’t think of it) — long, long neck and tiny head — started writing to me when I was a columnist, and dropped by the newsroom one day to chat, clearly with love on his mind. (He asked me to dinner.)
Another man apparently developed a crush on me after three phone calls and also dropped by the newsroom, clearly with love on his mind. (He brought flowers.)
Then there was the elderly man who came by to tell me about the good work done by his Kiwanis club, then started talking, with far more enthusiasm, about his fondness for at-home nudity, and his daily effort to make sure the early-arriving newspaper carrier got a good look at him through the bay window, on dark winter mornings. (“Did he have a boner?” Alan asked later.)
Yeah, all these people were harmless. A couple were pathetic. But none were 100 percent stable. One guy sent me his self-published book about police persecution, which he described as a nightly phenomenon. Another guy sent mash notes for a while, and when I failed to respond, switched to fuck-you-whore with an alacrity familiar to any woman who’s ever had a crazy boyfriend.
And here’s the thing: No one was really bugged by any of this. It’s part of what makes newsrooms more fun places to work than insurance agencies. Shitty pay, bad coffee and the nut of the morning. After a while, I would tell some callers, “Are you on medication? Have you taken your medication today? Why not? I think you need to take your medication and call me back in an hour.”
But as we all know now, the internet has taken harassment and one’s imaginary worlds into new, self-reinforcing places. It used to be hard to stalk someone; you used to have to do some legwork. Now it’s as easy as sending a friend request. The rhetoric around the business — you’ll hear more about enemies of the people and Milo in the next few days than you ever wanted to know — is reckless and criminal, and shouldn’t be tolerated.
We pause for a word from our sponsor:
Most of the newsrooms I’ve been in had some sort of security. None of it was very good security. I expect that will change now. And one more place a member of the public could saunter through without causing alarm will become locked-down, with visitor badges and sign-in sheets. We’ll all be lesser for it.
Two bits of bloggage today:
Here’s my first big piece for Deadline Detroit. It’s about a local radio station with an unusual promotion strategy. Speaking of harassment, read to the end.
I know a lot of you are friends of Bill and fans of country music. I liked this deep dive into country’s boozy subculture from the WashPost. The most interesting part was how much individual artists can make off liquor tie-ins, an important consideration for artists whose revenue streams are being stolen by the internet.
A very hot, very steamy weekend awaits. I hope to be sailing for the worst of it. Enjoy yours.