It could’ve been me

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By Justin Hubbard


If you follow my column on a weekly basis, then you know this week’s column was supposed to be the second of a 10-part series.

To count down the weeks till the return of Georgia football, my plan was to list, in detail, my 10 favorite moments from last season.

Part two was scheduled to be ready this week. I wanted to write it. I am at the point where I am salivating for some football.

But as much as I wanted to go ahead with that column, I could not make myself do it.

I love sports and, clearly, they are a major part of my life. You would not be reading this column if sports didn’t exist.

As much as I love talking about athletics, I felt it was incumbent upon me to address last week’s tragic shooting at the Capital Gazette.

The Gazette, which is based in Annapolis, Maryland, fell victim to a madman who blasted his way into its newsroom and opened fire on the reporters and other staffers present. Eleven people were reportedly gathered in the room. Five of them lost their lives.

Those five victims – Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith – went to work Thursday morning expecting to do their jobs just like on any other day. Instead, they never made it home.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s terrible shooting, we’ve seen an outpouring of testimonials about each of those individuals and their contributions to journalism.

We’ve heard how dedicated they were, how superb a job they regularly did at the Gazette. They were all quality workers in whichever division of the paper they served. They were good people who helped uphold journalistic standards.

A gunman who had a vendetta against the paper dating back years ago took those people away from their families and friends, the journalistic realm and the world in general. I won’t give him the dignity of mentioning him by name. He committed a heinous crime and I hope our justice system deals him a worthy punishment.

During my 24-and-a-half years on this Earth, I’ve lived through numerous shootings. That sentence should never have to be typed by anyone, but that’s our unfortunate and sad reality.

Last week’s shooting, however, cut deep because it involved my brothers and sisters. Of course, I mourn every time we experience one of these tragedies. The events at the Gazette stung harder, though, considering the victims were journalists just like me.

In this day and age, journalists are attacked by people of all walks of life, from government officials to the everyday American. Don’t get me wrong – several mass media companies these days are farcical representations of journalism – but the side effect of criticizing those outlets and their warped messages is that those of us who do our jobs the right way get lumped in with them.

A lot of folks think we are out to satisfy personal agendas. We’re not. We are here to hold the powerful accountable and make sure our local governments, schools, etc. are properly handling their business. That’s what we do at Lake Oconee News and all of the Smith Communications Inc. papers. That’s what the people at the Gazette do, too.

Since Thursday’s shooting, I have been touched by the overwhelming outpouring of support for journalists. This awful event made a lot of people realize we are open – for better or worse – to our communities. How do you think the shooter got into the newsroom so easily?

I think Pennsylvania-based reporter Emily Opilo said it best on Twitter: “None of our newsrooms are equipped to fend off an attack. We belong to the communities we serve. We can't be fortresses.”

My heart goes out to the families and friends who were affected by Thursday’s attack. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering they are enduring as I type these words and as you read them. I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else at LON, though I’d bet I’m not the only one writing a column about this subject this week, but it makes me even sadder to know those attacked were fellow newspaper staff members.

It could have been LON. It could have been one of my co-workers.

It could have been me.

The shooting last week was yet another stunning reminder about the evils that exist in our world. I didn’t come to preach, but I firmly believe we would all be better off with regular doses of Jesus. And even if you’re not the religious type, I think we can all agree our society needs more love and understanding.

It breaks my heart seeing how much hatred exists these days. We are divided on every front and those tensions often lead to what the Gazette experienced last week. Of course, this shooting was more isolated to the Gazette but I can’t help but think about the other harrowing things our country’s seen the past several years.

Elvis Presley, my favorite singer, recorded a song called “If I Can Dream.” It was the closing number of his ’68 Comeback Special. It was written specifically for Elvis as sort of a reaction to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

That song says, at one point, “We’re lost in a cloud with too much rain/We’re trapped in a world that’s troubled with pain.”

Elvis taped his TV performance of that song 50 years ago this past week. All these years later, can we honestly say things have changed for the better?

I long for the day when we can affirmatively answer “yes.”

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