Annapolis and Selmer: A tale of two newspapers

by Kevin Slimp,

The nation was shocked by the events at the Annapolis Capitol-Gazette Thursday.

I would need more fingers and toes than I have to count the number of times I’ve been at a newspaper when a call came in from someone threatening to come down and shoot someone. It’s an alarming part of the life of a journalist.

Some of you might remember McNary County, Tennessee as the home of Sheriff Buford Pusser, of Walking Tall fame, so you might not be surprised to learn this can be a tough place to be a journalist. The Selmer Independent-Appeal is the newspaper in McNary County, and I’ve visited there several times over the past 20 years.

Once, while I was sitting in publisher Bill Rail’s office, he answered the phone:

Bill: “Yes this is me … yes, I saw the story … yes I told them they could run it … How many brothers you got? How many guns you got? Well, I’ve got a baseball bat. Meet me in front of our building in 15 minutes.”

I asked Bill later if he was worried about the call. He said, “I get a call like that just about every week. You just have to get used to it in this business.”

Bill Rail, former publisher, Selmer Independent-Appeal

A few years later, while on another visit to the Selmer newspaper, the young editor received a phone call from a reader threatening to come “take care of” her for a story about a family member on the front page of the previous day’s paper. I recounted the story of Bill’s phone call, which seemed to ease her a bit. She still called the local authorities, worried they might really show up. I don’t blame her. I would have, too.

I don’t think most people have any idea how dangerous serious journalism can be. What happened in Maryland is a possibility at any real newspaper every day.

To my journalist friends: Thank you for your service. You probably don’t hear that enough.

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