ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The roots of the Annapolis Capital and Maryland Gazette newspapers date to the Gazette’s founding in 1727. The Gazette was one of the first papers to publish the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, though the paper still proudly notes that it was placed on Page 2 – Page 1 was reserved for local news.

Those roots were damaged, but not critically, when a gunman burst into the Capital Gazette newsroom in June 2018 and killed five staff members. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its work through that horrific trauma, and a new, specially designed newsroom was opened for the journalists a year later. Reporters and editors said it provided a feeling of safety, with enhanced security and bulletproof walls.

Now the coronavirus pandemic, and the newspapers’ owner, have dealt another traumatic blow. Last month, Tribune Publishing announced that it would permanently close the Annapolis newsroom, along with the newsrooms elsewhere of four other newspapers, while continuing to publish print and online editions as their staffs worked from home.

The Annapolis staff made plans to clear out their desks on Labor Day, to stage a final rally and farewell to their brick-and-mortar headquarters. But Tribune Publishing had other plans. It learned of the rally and locked the Capital Gazette staff out of the building, saying that the event “raises important Covid-related health concerns,” according to a text message from a labor relations executive.

So many of the staff, former staffers and supporters from The Baltimore Sun gathered in the building’s parking lot Monday, painted protest messages on their cars and then drove down to the Annapolis harbor, where a group of about 200 people expressed their hope that the Capital and the Gazette would keep covering local news, even without a central home from which to do it.

“I guess the Tribune didn’t learn after 2018,” said environment reporter Rachael Pacella, who survived the shooting, “that the community here loves these journalists and we’re not going to give up easily. We’re not going to let our newspaper be damaged anymore, and we’re not going to let it be closed down easily.”

“You watched people die while you hid under a desk,” recalled features reporter Selene San Felice, also a shooting survivor, “then you’re supposed to get better. Then you take that desk away from me. That’s how this feels. We’re not better. This isn’t better.”

Management officials at Tribune Publishing did not return messages Monday. The company announced last month that it would also close the newsrooms of the New York Daily News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Allentown Morning Call and the Carroll County, Md., Times. In Annapolis, the Capital publishes daily and the Gazette twice a week. The company also publishes the Bowie Blade-News once weekly.

A memo sent to the five newsroom staffs on Aug. 12 said that “these decisions were not made lightly or hastily” and that the papers would continue “our in-depth community coverage.” About one-third of Tribune Publishing is owned by Alden Global Capital, which has been accused of purchasing news outlets and stripping their assets.

There was no advance notice given to the staffs before the announcement. Pacella said the announcement “did cause some of the survivors of the shooting to be retraumatized, to have our space suddenly ripped away like that.”

The reporters expressed frustration that they already could not afford to live in Annapolis – they said four of their 30 staff members make more than $40,000 a year – and that now they cannot work there either.

“We thought this was our forever home,” said reporter Danielle Ohl. “We were just settling in and feeling some stability in our lives. It’s really destabilizing. How are we expected to do our job when a lot of us can’t afford to live here?”

Ohl and others said it was already challenging to do journalism during the isolation of the pandemic, but now it will become more difficult to meet sources and find news. Tribune has suggested some staffers could relocate to its Baltimore Sun offices, which are 35 miles away.

“You take the eyes out of the community when you take the newsroom away,” Ohl said.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, a Democrat, agreed. “The importance of local journalism has never mattered more than today,” he said outside the locked newsroom. “We need people to hold us accountable. This is a really sad day that we’re losing this newsroom.”

The staff members slain in the newsroom in 2018 – Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters – were not far from the minds of the papers’ supporters Monday. Andrea Chamblee, the widow of McNamara, said closing the newsroom “really is a boon for corrupt people. It’s open season now on local government accountability.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, recalled visiting the newsroom in 2018, when he was challenging an incumbent for election, and came away thinking he had a fair chance to get his message out. “If we lose the Capital Gazette, talk about the loss of democracy,” he said. He cited The Washington Post’s slogan about democracy dying in darkness.

Jay Perry of Brooklyn Heights, Md., said he and his son showed up for the rally because “we want to support the local paper, it’s important. We believe that local news is vital to the community and we shouldn’t just watch it fade into the background.”

Longtime sports reporter Bill Wagner said newsrooms help teach young journalists the subtleties of reporting and where to find the best sources of information. Minutes later, Ohl announced directions to “Susan B. Campbell Park” for the rally.

Wagner hollered that Campbell’s middle initial was C, not B. “The family gets really [angry] when people call it Susan B,” he said.

The crowd roared. “See? Real-time fact checking,” Ohl said.

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