One of my first jobs was for a weekly in Morton — a small (then) logging town in southwest Washington.

I had the joy of doing the police beat, which involved sitting down with the police chief once a week where he’d tell me a story about every call the department received.

The chief was a natural story teller so it was a blast. I’d get information on local history and family feuds dating back generations. Very little of this ended up in print.

One day this huge, burly, leather-vest clad mountain man came into the newspaper office demanding to talk to the idiot you wrote the police log. I was summoned to the front counter where this man ripped into me for getting the caliber of his gun wrong in the police beat write up about the crime he committed while armed with the weapon. He said I embarrassed him in front of this friends, who I assumed were members of a biker gang. He ended his diatribe by pulling out the weapon in question to prove his point.

I immediately agreed to run a correction and he stormed out.

It was an early, scary lesson on the emotions words put in print can generate. Over the years I’ve had people threaten to shoot me and to blow up the newspaper office. I should point out that I have not been shot or blown up in the course of my profession.

So, anger toward the press is not a new thing, in fact it probably dates back to the first day of the press.

That said, something feels different today. It’s always been understood that if you made a mistake in a story or wrote something people found offensive (this covers a wide range of topics from religion to land-use planning), you could trigger an angry, emotional response. Most of the time you just had to absorb it — implement a version of the rope-a-dope until the person’s anger was spent.

But today’s anger requires no such trigger. Or, more correctly, the trigger is just you being you trying to do your job. The response has been primed and rope-a-dope may not be a survivable strategy.

Last week a Daily Record reporter covered the anti-war demonstration on the corner near the Kittitas County Courthouse. He was filming some cell phone video as well, because we’re all about multi-media.

He caught part of a discussion between a demonstrator and a man who was critical of the demonstration. When the man saw the reporter he walked toward him, made some comments about the liberal media and said, “People like you ruined this country.” After some more words, he ended by saying we were morons who would likely be killed by Middle Eastern terrorists, although that part was non-specific.

The reporter did not respond, had not said a word through the entire discussion, which while angry was not violent.

Watching the man, who I know and have talked to pleasantly many times, it was undeniable that he wholeheartedly believed what he said. These weren’t words said it anger, later regretted. This was not the rantings from a fringe element, this was a mainstream worldview.

We’ve shared in staff meetings that we need to watch out for ourselves and for each other when in public, especially at events where emotions run high.

While we are not paying people quite enough here at the Daily Record to endure physical assaults (even with the latest increase in minimum wage), we also cannot disengage our way to safety.

If we don’t respectfully engage we allow others to define us. The truth is we do our best, our stories are almost always about your neighbors or your neighbors’ kids or you or your kids. Of course we’re not perfect. We probably spend too much time watching those silly Food Network shows, talking about the deeper significance of the latest Star Wars movie and are inflicted with the standard Whitman’s Sampler box of personal failings.

While I personally have mangled thousands of sentences, not yet overcome my personal struggles with homonyms and violated many rules of grammar, I don’t think I’ve ruined this country. I don’t believe my coworkers have, either. I don’t think this country is in a state of ruin. I do think we can make the country (starting with our own little piece of it) better by doing our jobs better so that remains our focus.

I can’t assume you know or agree with that, though. My goal for 2020 is to respectfully engage because our way out of this is not by heading in opposition directions but by coming together.

Contact managing editor Michael Gallagher at mgallagher@kvnews.com.

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