Editor Rick Hutzell (MS ’83) wasn’t in the newsroom on June 28, 2018, when a gunman with a grudge killed five of his coworkers at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, but he feels the effects all the same.
The incident was one of more than 340 mass shootings in the United States in 2018 (gunviolencearchive.org). But it garnered far more attention than most of the shootings that came before it earlier in the year, as it was a physical and deadly assault on the media.
The months since the shooting have changed the lives of Hutzell—a 31-year veteran of the Capital—and the others, who were used to reporting community news, not making national headlines.
“This is a story that is beyond our control,” said Hutzell during a phone interview from the Capital’s temporary offices in Annapolis.
“I knew when it was happening that people were going to make of it the symbol that they wanted to. There have been people who have wanted to use it as a symbol of attacks on the press, and I think that’s legitimate,” Hutzell said. “I think there are people who want to make it a symbol of the need for better gun control. I’m not sure about that, because Maryland has pretty strong gun control laws. I think that there were people who wanted to use it as a symbol of intolerance and hate. Seems reasonable to me. But there are other people who have wanted to make of it as they will, and we always knew that was going to happen.”
In December, Hutzell and some of his coworkers were featured on the cover of Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue as part of a group dubbed the Guardians. The group included journalists whose pursuit of truth has caused them to be targeted, persecuted, or even murdered. Initially, the Capital group thought their photo would appear as part of a
story about gun violence. They found out only days before the magazine hit the stands that they were chosen as part of the Person of the Year story.
Hutzell, who called the recognition “a great and terrible honor,” hadn’t previously given any interviews about the newsroom shooting.
“I felt really strongly that the thing for me to do as a journalist was to speak through the work,” he said. “I had to step in and write the vast majority of the editorials. . . . Then as editor of a paper, you also speak through the lineup of the stories. You speak through what the assignment is. You speak through the choice of pictures.”
He recalled receiving a letter to the editor saying that the newspaper had been more interesting in the six months since the shooting.
“I’m like, thank you—but yes, we have been writing a lot about this tragedy, and we have been writing about the consequences on the community and we have been writing a lot about, as best we can, ourselves, which is a really weird thing,” Hutzell said. “Some of what we have done is a little different but the basic work is the same, and that is we come in every day, we’re looking for a story to tell out of this community that has significance beyond the two or three or 10 people involved, and we’re looking to do it in a way that is engaging, evocative, and has impact.”
Shortly after the shooting, with the deaths of his friends still fresh, Hutzell wrote an editorial asking, “How do we make what happened in Annapolis the last shooting in America?” Hutzell, who was honored as the National Press Foundation’s editor of the year in February, hopes today’s young journalists see the unanswered questions, the challenges from positions of authority, and the violence aimed at the media as a call to action.
This is what he feels community journalism is about—a responsibility to ask the difficult questions of people in power to help others make decisions and better their community.
And that is what the staff of the Capital continued to do on June 28, 2018. Even as they were in shock, mourning the loss of their friends, reporter Chase Cook tweeted, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”
And they did.
*UPDATE (4/15/2019): The Pulitzer Prize board has awarded a special citation to honor the journalists, staff, and editorial board of the Capital Gazette, Annapolis, Maryland, for their courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in US history in their newsroom on June 28, 2018, and for demonstrating unflagging commitment to covering the news and serving their community at a time of unspeakable grief. The citation comes with a $100,000 bequest by the Pulitzer Board to be used to further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.
In Memory of