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31st annual Caulfield Lecture reflects on the 2018 Capital Gazette tragedy


On April 16, the department of communication hosted Sam Davis, managing editor of The Baltimore Sun Media Group, for their 2019 Caulfield Lecture lecture, l Gazette Tragedy: How We Reported Our Own News Story.” This is the 31st year of the Caulfield Lecture, which was founded by Clarence J. Caulfield, an editor of The Baltimore Sun. The lecture discussed the shooting that happened at the Capital Gazette office in Annapolis, Maryland, and how The Baltimore Sun reported on the incident.

Davis is a Baltimore native who started at The Baltimore Sun as a clerk in 1980. He earned his current title in 2016 for The Baltimore Sun Media Group, which provides content for all of the Sun Media Group’s publications.

On June 28, 2019, a gunman came into The Capital Gazette’s headquarters office at 888 Bestgate Road, killing five people and injuring two. Less than 45 minutes after the incident, The Capital Gazette sent out their first report. In only a few hours, they were able to release an entire newspaper. Although the reporters were distraught, they fought through their pain in order to cover the story. Their hard work through trying times was rewarded with many honors and awards, including being part of TIME’s Person of the Year for 2018.

The Baltimore Sun provided aid to the Capital Gazette through the tragedy, including grieving with its sister publication. The two worked side by side to report on the incidents of that day. “It was one of the most horrific days in American journalism,” said Davis, as he recounted the events.

Davis brought up two different tweets from the day of the shooting to highlight the importance of social media in a tragedy. The first tweet was from intern Anthony Messenger saying, “Active shooter 888 Bestgate please help us.” It was sent out only 10 minutes after the first shots were fired. Messenger was the first individual who was confirmed to be in the building that had survived.

Later that day, The Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook tweeted out something that would underline the Gazette’s perseverance through their tragedy. He wrote, “I can tell you this: we are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” This tweet went viral and became a battle cry of journalists fighting for freedom of the press.

Davis touched upon the impact of reporting on something so personal. “We run to danger. We cry later,” he said. He emphasized the importance of providing coverage without inserting the journalist into the story. He said it is a journalist’s job to deliver facts in an unbiased way to inform the public, and while a story may be emotionally difficult, it is still important to deliver it to the audience.

Davis closed his lecture with a video honoring the five victims of the attack and how the newspapers worked hard through their grieving to deliver thorough facts. As Davis said, it is important to press on and continue the hard work for the purpose of journalism and free press. As one of his closing statements, he called back to the tweet that reporter Chase Cook had sent out: “Journalists put their mission in front of their misery and still put out a damn paper.”

Featured Image: Courtesy of WBAL

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31st annual Caulfield Lecture reflects on the 2018 Capital Gazette tragedy