Amid dark, hold the light


Chase Cook, Joshua McKerrow and E.B. Furgurson III did what many would think was unfathomable.

To them, it was the only thing they could do.

The three men went to work for a workplace that was just ripped apart by shotgun blasts.

Five of their co-workers were dead.

They worked in the parking deck across from work, in the bed of Furgurson’s pickup truck – their modern gear and tech atop a piece of beatnik Americana. They worked for several hours as sirens, police and media descended around them.

Cook, McKerrow and Furgurson themselves are media: newspaper people – the same as their deceased co-workers. They all worked at the Annapolis Capital Gazette.

And now the three of them reported on their own unimaginable personal tragedy.

This is what journalists do.

Thursday at 2:33 p.m., we paused for a minute at The Vindicator and joined peers across the world to honor the five Annapolis colleagues – Rob Hiaasen, 59, Wendi Winters, 65, Gerald Fischman, 61, John McNamara, 56, and Rebecca Smith, 34.

They were gunned down where they worked by a person angry at their work. There is a past between the newspaper and the shooter, and it had led to legal action and eventually threats that, on June 28, finally played out.

The journalists involved in the original disputes had since departed the company. Five unconnected souls paid the price.

The importance in honoring them Thursday was to also honor their life’s choice – an occupation that’s not for many.

A journalist’s work is not more special than the thousands of occupations that make our world go round. But journalism is certainly unique.

If it’s the job of police and fire workers to run toward trouble, then a journalist’s job is to stand there; not go in, but don’t go away. Stoically record the events.

You stand there and not get angry, not get jubilant, and not get involved.

Just. Stand. There.

In that way, we can appear odd to society. But to stand, observe and record as much as you can serves that same society so it can thereby live, learn, love or lambaste.

When a journalist is not observing, they are asking. Often, it’s asking things that would make most humans feel uncomfortable.

Again, we appear odd at times. It’s not for everyone, but it is for some. Youngstown is home to one of America’s most pivotal of the craft – the late civil-rights journalist Simeon Booker Jr.

With true journalism, the best societies flourish. It’s why we are one.

Freedom of the press is wrapped tightly into the First Amendment that our founding fathers constructed. It has buoyed us fine for nearly 250 years.

To have a current president trample the press, bully its role and lie about its performance must surely have our forefathers seething. Our president even got my teen son to boo the press at a visit here. It was a long-talk that night at our home afterward.

Journalism is a light.

And in Annapolis last week, the light went out. Briefly.

Two hours after learning of his newsroom’s carnage, Cook tweeted from the truck: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”

I’ve not had the pleasure to know any of the Annapolis journalists. But I have seen peers show fortitude like that of Cook, McKerrow, Furgurson and the rest of their colleagues.

Deceased Girard policeman Justin Leo once, as a teen, put a baseball through neighbor Bill Lewis’ window as his sons enjoyed a game with Leo and other Girard sons.

When Leo was killed on duty last year, it was Lewis, a Vindicator journalist, who felt it his duty to report on his sons’ friend.

We have other staffers in our newsroom who work around painful life chapters to bring light to Vindicator readers.

In a Nebraska newsroom, I worked with Jason Grotelueschen who wrote an ode to his dad the night of his dad’s funeral. He had died days before in a crash. I was the next-to-last person to leave the office that night. The single glow from Jason’s work station was sad yet profound.

Sandusky, Ohio, is another former newsroom of mine. It is home to what remains one of the most honorable and cherished gestures to this craft.

In 1885, the company purchased 16 burial plots in Oakland Cemetery. These days, some owners of U.S. newspapers strip out all the profits to serve shareholders and quarterly reports. In 1885 in Sandusky, Ohio, the company put profits toward 16 burial plots with this explanation:

“Burial plot in Oakland Cemetery was purchased in 1885 for use by Register employees who may die without individually owning six feet of earth that every man must some day occupy.”

In the plot, where nine of the 16 spaces have been used, is a monument which carries these words:

“The dead who lie here toiled for the world’s enlightenment.”

Journalists toil.

Cook, McKerrow, Furgurson did.

And there’s a world that wishes their deceased colleagues still could.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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