“You take the eyes out of the community when you take the newsroom away.”

From a Washington Post story by Tom Jackman headlined “Publisher locks Capital Gazette staff out of their building in Annapolis”:

In Annapolis, the roots of the Annapolis Capital and Maryland Gazette newspapers date to the Gazette’s founding in 1727. The Gazette was one of the first papers to publish the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, though the paper still proudly notes that it was placed on Page 3 — Page 1 was reserved for local news.

Those roots were damaged when a gunman burst into the Capital Gazette newsroom in June 2018 and killed five staff members. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its work through that horrific trauma, and a new, specially designed newsroom was opened for the journalists a year later. Reporters and editors said it provided a feeling of safety, with enhanced security and bulletproof walls.

Now the coronavirus pandemic and the newspapers’ owner have dealt another traumatic blow. Last month, Tribune Publishing announced that it would permanently close the Annapolis newsroom, along with the newsrooms elsewhere of four other newspapers, while continuing to publish print and online editions as their staffs worked from home.

The Annapolis staff made plans to clear out their desks on Labor Day, to stage a final rally and farewell to their bricks-and-mortar headquarters. But Tribune Publishing had other plans. It learned of the rally and locked the Capital Gazette staff out of the building, saying that the event “raises important Covid-related health concerns,” according to a text message from a labor relations executive.

So, many staff members, former staffers and supporters from the Baltimore Sun gathered in the building’s parking lot Monday, painted protest messages on their cars and then drove down to the Annapolis harbor, where a group of about 200 people expressed their hope that the Capital and the Gazette would keep covering local news, even without a central home from which to do it.

“I guess the Tribune didn’t learn after 2018,” said environment reporter Rachael Pacella, who survived the shooting, “that the community here loves these journalists and we’re not going to give up easily. . . .

There was no notice given the staffs before the announcement. Pacella said that the announcement “did cause some of the survivors of the shooting to be retraumatized, to have our space suddenly ripped away like that.”. . .

Reporter Danielle Ohl and others said it was already challenging to do journalism in the isolation of the pandemic, but now it will be more difficult to meet sources and find news.

“You take the eyes out of the community when you take the newsroom away,” Ohl said.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley agreed. “The importance of local journalism has never mattered more than today,” he said outside the locked newsroom. “We need people to hold us accountable. This is a really sad day that we’re losing this newsroom.”. . .

The staff members slain in the newsroom in 2018 — Gerald Fisch­man, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — were not far from the minds of the papers’ supporters Monday. Andrea Chamblee, McNamara’s widow, said closing the newsroom “really is a boon for corrupt people. It’s open season now on local government accountability.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman recalled visiting the newsroom in 2018, when he was challenging an incumbent for election, and coming away thinking he had a fair chance to get his message out. “If we lose the Capital Gazette, talk about the loss of democracy,” he said. . . .

Longtime sports reporter Bill Wagner said newsrooms help teach young journalists the subtleties of reporting and where to find the best sources of information.

Also see this previous post about the founding and growth of the Annapolis Capital.

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