Don’t shoot the messenger

Newspaper reporters are just doing their job

I know this might sound strange, but last month’s massacre at the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper south of the border, where five newspaper staff were murdered by a deranged gunman, didn’t really surprise me. I feel terrible for the victims and their families. It appears the shooter was a nutcase who was convicted in court of criminal harassment of a woman, but was obsessed with the fact negative newspaper coverage made him look like a lunatic.

I have seen tons of that type of attitude over the past 25 years. I recently received a denigrating, profane email from a wacko who was angry at me because The Pipestone Flyer didn’t take his side in a land use dispute.

About 22 years ago I was working in southern Alberta and covered a landfill approval. You want to see angry neighbours? The people who lived next to the piece of land earmarked for the landfill were livid, and they were not thinking rationally. At one of the public hearings I went to, a farmer who lived next to the proposed landfill pretty much said he was going to shoot anyone who showed up to start building the landfill. That fellow’s family also got angry at me because I was trying to tell both sides of the issue in the newspaper; apparently, they thought I should only tell their side.

Fast forward roughly 10 years and I was covering county council at a different newspaper. A landowner came in to file a re-zoning application to build a large residential subdivision on his farmland. This was before the oil patch tanked, and real estate prices in that area were sky high. It was likely simply selling the property could make this landowner a millionaire.

However, the county council involved took their time and analyzed the application. The proposal included hundreds of acres of good, productive farmland and the only real excuse the landowner could make for taking it out of production was “It’s going to make me a millionaire!” The council turned down the application and told the landowner farmland should be protected from development.

A few days later the reeve dropped by my office to tell me he’d heard some rumours that the landowner in question, who happened to own a gun collection and wasn’t the most mentally stable individual, was behaving in such a way that some people were a bit concerned for their safety. The reeve said he thought he should mention it to me because, if some shooting started, the local newspaper editor might be one of the targets.

But most of the lunacy I’ve been exposed to in my journalism career has come as a result of covering provincial court or Court of Queen’s Bench. I don’t have room on this page for everything I’ve seen and heard, although I’m considering writing a book about it someday. But I will relate an incident that, no matter how many years pass, never seems to fade.

My court reporter returned from work one morning and told me about a serious assault that a man had been convicted of. He was a city resident who’d attacked his spouse so badly, she fled the city and was in hiding in our little rural community. He found her and apparently beat her within an inch of her life. He pleaded guilty, as it was obvious there was no way to beat the charge, but someone, somewhere must have said something about court news appearing in the local paper, because the first thing he did was phone me after he left court.

This idiot made it clear that his name was definitely not going to appear in the paper. I assured him that, yeah, his name was definitely going in the paper. He proceeded to yell, scream, insult and threaten me, but it made no difference. Eventually he said,”You’re making me look like a bad guy.”

And then he hung up.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.

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