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Dave Schlenker: Thanking community journalists? Odd but appreciated

Dave Schlenker: Thanking community journalists? Odd but appreciated
05 Jul
6:56

He shook my hand and then left amid an awkward silence.

It was the second trip to the hardware store that day. Not an unusual cycle, really, considering my complete ineptness in fixing the most elementary of household misfortunes.

I likely bought the wrong screw on the first outing or forgot the screw altogether upon seeing something shinier on the shelf.

In line, a gentleman recognized me and said he enjoys my column. I thanked him and he headed toward the door. Then he stopped and, with complete sincerity, thanked me.

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do,” he said, “what all of you journalists do.”

He shook my hand and then left amid an awkward silence.

He spoke to me as he would speak to a military veteran. I was baffled. Why was he thanking me — me, of all people? I waste valuable newsprint with stories about weird chickens and man rompers.

More so, what was with his deep appreciation for the news industry? I was thrilled, of course, but the fact remains: Very few people thank journalists, especially small-town newsroom dwellers. I say this not out of bitterness but as a matter of truth, like I would say the sun is bright or the rain is wet.

Usually when readers approach me, they say they enjoy my column (or find it “um, interesting”), but that is often followed with what they do not like about the newspaper. It could be typos. It could be perceived bias. It could be a circulation problem from 1983. But thanking me? That is a new one.

Then it hit me: Annapolis.

Days earlier, a gunman with an obsessive grudge against the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, fired his way into the newsroom and killed five employees.

When the names of the victims were released, I equated their positions and personalities to those in our newsroom: the hard-nosed editorial/column writers with great stories and political foes; the overworked sports writer who may have just arrived for his shift; the fun-loving features writer whose passion for adventure rivals her passion for prose; the sales assistant who may have been visiting newsroom friends because news folks are funny, interesting and tend to bring free food.

I see our faces in those faces.

I also think about irked locals who dislike our journalists. It is the nature of the business. Felons do not like seeing their names in the news. Politicians do not like being targets of fiery editorials. Handcuffed suspects do not like cameras in their faces.

A few Star-Banner readers rant in disgust if the daily puzzles are wrong.

Last week, a belligerent reader called every Star-Banner phone number he could find to scream and cuss about our lack of coverage of a political debate. One employee was nearly in tears. Stuff like that happens at newspapers.

I recognize the dynamics of reader grudges, but it never scares me. People yell at Star-Banner employees now and then, yet they never harm us. There is clatter, but we know this is important work. Some stories shake trees. Others shape perspective. All of them inform.

Yes, the Annapolis massacre is personal, but so are school shootings. Perhaps more so. School shootings are more common and happen on campuses that look just like the ones our children attend.

I write these words more than four hours after my friend Jaye Baillie sent us an email about how much she appreciates the Star-Banner. In less than an hour, newsrooms nationwide will observe a moment of silence for the Capital Gazette victims.

Then my colleagues and I will continue to produce a daily newspaper, just like the Capital Gazette did hours after five of their colleagues were murdered in front of them. If readers are to find any heroes in the business right now, those Annapolis journalists are the ones who should be thanked in hardware stores.

I am just a working schlub doing what I have been doing for 28 years. In the coming weeks, I will return to the silly business of writing humor columns. For now, I must attend to the business of a botched puzzle in Wednesday’s paper.

For that, I apologize and simply say, as we all do, “Thanks for reading.”

Dave Schlenker can be reached at go@starbanner.com and 867-4120.

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