Sarah Stultz: We must all protect the guardians of the First Amendment in our communities

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2021

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Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

On Monday I eagerly watched a recording of the memorial dedication in Annapolis, Maryland, for the five newspaper employees killed during a gunman’s attack three years ago at the Capital Gazette.

It has been a story I have followed closely as it hits close  to home as a fellow journalist.

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The memorial, named “Guardians of the First Amendment,” features five pillars, along with part of the First Amendment carved in stone. The five pillars represent the lives taken the day of the shooting: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. It also features the front page of the Capital Gazette the day after the shooting as the remaining journalists rallied together to put out the paper.

Though I’ve never met these people, I felt a kinship to them, tied together by our loves of community and of truth-telling.

Though it is our job to write stories and put out a newspaper, it goes far beyond that. It becomes a passion for storytelling, of meeting our friends and neighbors, hearing their stories and keeping our communities informed.

We witness the horrors very few others experience as we cover some of the awful things that happen in our communities, but we also witness some of the brightest, most beautiful moments as well, as we meet people who go above and beyond for others or who witness miracles in their lives and seek to share them with others.

As I watched the ceremony, the pain that remained in the hearts of the co-workers and family members of those who died June 28, 2018, was still evident. My heart, too, ached — particularly for former Capital Gazette Editor Rick Hutzell, who recently announced he was leaving the newspaper after more than three decades.

It’s clear the weight he has carried on his shoulders the last three years, not only in living through the shooting and mourning the deaths of his colleagues, but also in his efforts to save the newspaper the shooter that day tried to kill.

“I wasn’t going to let it die,” he wrote in his farewell column.

He has recognized now it is someone else’s turn to keep the publication going.

At a time that has been challenging for newspapers, he said if people care about journalism or freedom of the press, then they need to subscribe to their local news organization.

“You have freedom, and it’s up to you to keep it,” he said.

His words couldn’t be more true.

Thank you to those who have supported our newspaper and who continue to advocate for freedom of the press.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.