Capital Gazette staff protests Annapolis newsroom closure

Capital Gazette journalists rally in Annapolis, Maryland, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

Journalists from Annapolis, Maryland-based news outlet the Capital Gazette protested the closure of their newsroom, sending them to either work from home or in Baltimore, nearly 30 miles away.

The closure of the newsroom comes about a month after the Capital Gazette’s parent company, Tribune Publishing, announced the closure of five newspaper offices across the U.S. Employees were told they would be working at home until at least January 2021, but staff told WTOP that no plans to open a newsroom have been shared.

According to employees, the last day for the newsroom would involve a ceremonial last walkout. But that did not happen.

“Tribune revoked key card access to our office when they heard about our protest. They said it was because of COVID concerns,” said reporter Danielle Ohl, who also serves as the union representative for the Capital Gazette.

Workers instead met in the parking lot of their former building and decorated cars with messages such as “Save Maryland Newspapers,” “Save Local News” and “Shame on Tribune.”

The cars then moved from their office through Annapolis all the way to Susan Campbell Park at the City Dock, where they held a rally asking for support and condemning Tribune Publishing.

“We need the community to show Tribune Publishing that it is not just a bunch of disgruntled journalists that they can ignore,” Ohl said.

During the rally, several journalists reflected on the newspaper’s most turbulent time, a shooting in the newsroom in 2018 that killed five co-workers.

“You watch people die while you hid under a desk and then you are supposed to get better. It’s been two years, so I’m supposed to be better now? So you can just take that desk away from me?” said reporter Selene San Felice.

Even local politicians who often come under the Capital Gazette’s microscope came to speak in support of keeping reporters in the local newsroom.

“This is a newspaper whose newsroom faced unimaginable horror, and they still came back to work. This is a newspaper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its commitment to doing its job. So, if this isn’t worth fighting for, what is worth fighting for?” said Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley.

“If we lose the Capital Gazette, talk about losing democracy,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.

During the rally, Pittman also alluded that a series of nonprofits aimed to buy the Baltimore Sun and several other local papers, including the Capital Gazette.

Several Capital Gazette reporters told WTOP that the majority of reporters live outside Annapolis and Anne Arundel County for cost reasons, and without having the newsroom as a home base to cover their area, the paper’s quality may suffer.

Starting this week, the newsroom will be virtual, with reporters filing stories either from their cars or from an office in Baltimore.

“We don’t cover Baltimore. We cover Anne Arundel County, and we want to be in Anne Arundel County,” said San Felice to a cheering crowd of locals.

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