The Gerald Fischmans of the world, writing editorials and news reports about their local communities, have among the hardest jobs in journalism.

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I knew Gerald Fischman.

A prematurely bald, pale, quiet man who loved Shakespeare, he was a copy editor at the Carroll County Times when I worked there in my first newspaper job in Westminster, Maryland. This was in 1985, and I was much younger and more innocent then. We all were.

Unimaginable then would be the horror that unfolded Thursday as a gunman stalked the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees and injuring others. By the time the shooting stopped, Fischman, just three years older than me, and editorial page editor of the paper, was among the dead.

He sat just feet from me in the newsroom we shared. He was among the first to teach me that every word matters. A stickler for the right word in the right place, he appreciated the beauty of language; it was his music. He had a way of folding his hands over his middle and pausing before he spoke that told you he thought first. Nice quality in an editor. Or anyone.

Our door at the Carroll County Times, a daily paper with a circulation of just 20,000, was always open to anyone who chose to walk in. People from our rural community northwest of Baltimore dropped by for all sorts of reasons, to pay their newspaper subscription bill, or visit our editor, who also played in a local rock band.

We were all part of the community, and the community part of us. Journalists who work at small papers like the Annapolis Capital Gazette are the primary producers in the food chain of information. They are the ones — the only ones — who are there on behalf of the public to watchdog the community council meetings, the police station, the local courts, the school board, or chronicle the life of the community, from county fairs to tractor pulls and local sports.

As a cub reporter in my first job covering cops and courts, my first assignment every Sunday afternoon when I got to work was to stop at the state police barracks out on the highway and see if anyone had rolled their tractor over the weekend. Once at the newsroom, I called all the funeral homes to see if there was an important death that needed to be noted. Heirloom journalism, for a grieving community.

The Gerald Fischmans of the world, writing editorials and news reports about their local communities have among the hardest jobs in journalism. Their pay is the lowest, and their resources the smallest in newsrooms savaged by cutbacks all over America. Unlike those of us who went on to work in big cities, they work on the front lines of their communities with no privacy or personal lives in which they can just be themselves for a while. Every trip to the grocery store is a likely encounter over the lettuce about what you just wrote, or should write, with readers who are invested in the coverage of their communities. May it always be so.

While some journalists such as myself learned our very first skills from people like Gerald Fischman, and went on to careers far from our origins, others remain in their communities, as Gerald did, year after year, investing their talent and caring. I celebrate his life, and honor the commitment of journalists at small community papers all over America doing some of the hardest, most essential work of our craft.

I was not surprised Gerald’s colleagues at his grieving newspaper worked through shock and horror to put out that terrible day’s paper, reporting the news their community needed to know. That is what journalists do. It is certainly what Gerald would have done.