The message came a few days after the Hamilton Post published its biggest story of 2018.
Diccon Hyatt’s investigation into the Facebook presence of township Board of Education candidates had dredged up a smörgåsbord of racism, sexism and xenophobia from a pair of accounts. The article spread quickly, and it seemed like nearly everyone in town was talking about the piece. I figured it was only a matter of time until someone would want to talk to me about it, so I called into my voicemail box expecting some sort of message related to Hyatt’s story.
Sure enough, I had received one from a Hamilton resident complimenting the article. She thanked us for publishing it, saying it took courage to do so. And that was it—short and sweet, no more than a minute long.
But little acts can make a big difference, and this one did. I shared the message with everyone in the newsroom, so they could see that what we did had real effects in our community. We all appreciated this resident had taken time out to praise us.
Weeks later, though, the message still bounced around in my head. There was something about it I couldn’t shake.
After reflecting a bit, it hit me hard—this resident had called us “courageous.” What we had done didn’t seem courageous. It didn’t seem like a feat of strength or bravery. We weren’t going to war or charging into a burning building. We were just doing a basic function of our job. We were just telling the truth.
Is doing this job really courageous? It was in 2018 America, according to a new report by an organization called Reporters Without Borders.
The group’s annual Worldwide Roundup contained some shocking information: the United States was the 5th most dangerous country in which to be a journalist in 2018. This is the first time the U.S. has ever appeared on the list.
The distinction stems from the fact that six reporters died while working in the U.S. in the first 11 months of the last year. Four of those were journalists murdered during a June 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. The attack also killed a fifth person, a sales assistant who had recently started at the newspaper.
But Reporters Without Borders also cited increasingly hostile rhetoric toward journalists as a reason the United States is a harder place to be a reporter these days. What strikes me most about this all is the five people who lost their lives simply because they worked at a newspaper weren’t the “media” targeted by that rhetoric. They didn’t work for CNN or The New York Times. They weren’t part of some conglomerate. They weren’t “the enemy of the people.” They were just, well, people.
If you find yourself getting caught up in the bombast, remember, journalists are just like you. We’re your neighbors.
It’s no different at the Hamilton Post. The staff here lives in the community. We grew up, went to school and made lifelong friends here. And once we leave the office, we’re just like a teacher or a police officer or a mechanic or an accountant. We go home to loved ones—spouses and kids and parents. We have hobbies and fears and dreams and bills to pay.
I’ve been lucky in that Hamiltonians get it for the most part. Many people know me from going to school at Steinert High School, belonging to the Hamilton Area YMCA, attending St. Gregory the Great Church or my work at the Hamilton Post for the last 11 years. I could go down the staff box and list similar affiliations for my colleagues; they’d be life stories familiar to many of you.
We aim for those community connections in our articles, and we ought to do a better job letting our readers know those connections often continue to the people producing the content. If you don’t recognize yourself in our staff and this paper, then we have work to do.
Send me an email, and we’ll try to make 2019 a better, safer, more-community-focused year for us all—a year where it doesn’t seem courageous to do the right thing.
In the interest of setting the record straight
My grandmother looked at me from across the table, mustering a seriousness I’d never seen before from her.
“You’re Irish, Bob,” she said.
This was delivered 10 months ago as a rebuke, an insistence. I had just penned a column that discussed how an AncestryDNA test revealed I was substantially less Irish than I thought I was. The results shocked me, and they awed my parents and siblings, too, when most of them received similar returns. We couldn’t believe how wrong we had been about our roots. Yet, despite what science had said, my grandmother remained firm—we were Irish.
Last month, a cheery email landed in my inbox from AncestryDNA. “We’ve just released a free update to your DNA results,” it read. “New AncestryDNA regions bring your story into sharper focus.” Included in those new regions were 92 from a just-discovered landmass the scientists are calling “Ireland.”
Thanks to this new, more precise data on Irish DNA markers, Ancestry’s labs determined that I actually had DNA that was 53 percent Irish and 21 percent Scottish. The new results also showed that the Irish portion of my DNA could be pinpointed exactly to the Derry and northern Ulster region, which matches exactly from where my grandmother’s family hails.
In other words, the new results told us what we thought we knew prior to doing AncestryDNA. So, lesson learned, never, ever doubt Mom Mom.
As penance, please allow the following to set the record straight:
Correction: Editor Rob Anthes incorrectly suggested in the column entitled “Load of spit: what genetic testing taught me about my roots” (March 2018 Hamilton Post) that the majority of his heritage is not Irish. He regrets the error, but not as much as he regrets trusting a mail-in spit test over his grandmother.