Just a few short years ago, there was a time journalism was appreciated and, dare we say, respected. During the Trump presidency and the early COVID-19 pandemic, newspapers of all sizes reported increases in circulation as readers searched for accurate information about a world that was coming apart around them. Public radio and digital news operations also saw bumps.
That newfound support, sadly, has proven in many cases to have been short-lived and whisper soft. After four years of a Trump presidency and almost three years of a global pandemic, journalists are under fire again, truth be damned.
And it’s not just media giants like CNN or The New York Times coming under attack. Local journalists are also being threatened.
One need only look across state lines for the latest example of such harassment. New Hampshire Public Radio confirmed last month that its journalists and their families have been targeted with threats and violence.
A reporter’s current and former homes on Lynn Fells Parkway in Melrose and in Hampstead, N.H., were vandalized May 21. In the Melrose attack, a man spray-painted the words “Just the beginning!” in red on the home, threw a brick through a window and ran away. The incident was caught on a Ring home-security camera. Earlier the same day, in Hampstead, a vandal spray-painted an obscenity on a garage door and threw a brick at the house.
It wasn’t the first occurrence.
On April 24, someone spray-painted the same obscenity in red on the same Hampstead house, along with homes in Concord and Hanover, N.H., and threw bricks at each house, breaking windows and causing other damage.
The targeted homes were connected to a NHPR journalist either professionally or by family.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said last week that investigators are looking at recent work from one of the journalists targeted, Lauren Chooljian. Chooljian was a co-host of “Stranglehold,” a podcast about New Hampshire’s presidential primary, and has recently reported on turmoil at Granite Recovery Centers, one of New Hampshire’s largest substance abuse treatment providers.
“The incidents of vandalism would be concerning on their own,” she told NHPR. “If it is determined that the motive that we are looking at is in fact the reason for these attacks, if it is either in retaliation for some work that she has done or intimidation around work she may be contemplating, that obviously involves some First Amendment concerns, and is obviously much more disturbing.”
Yes, it takes thick skin to be a journalist. But this is something new, something beyond the angry phone calls and nasty letters that are an accepted part of the job. These are personal attacks, and violent, and aimed not just at reporters, but their families. And they are taking place in the very communities local journalists are committed to covering.
“That reporting by Lauren and our newsroom is outstanding reporting that no one is going to intimidate our newsroom from continuing to pursue, wherever it takes them,” NHPR President and CEO Jim Schachter said, adding that the station is “supporting in every way possible the victims of these crude, senseless attacks.”
That is admirable. But the community must stand behind its journalists as well. Local journalism is essential to civic life, not just in New Hampshire but here in Salem and Newburyport and North Andover and Gloucester. Those who do this work don’t take it on expecting to get rich. But they do expect to make a difference, to make lives better for their neighbors.