Latest Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

July 3, 2018
Latest Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

NOTE: The following is the text of my newspaper column for July 5, 2018, written in response to last week’s mass shooting in Annapolis.)

Another week, another mass shooting.

That’s America in the 21st century.

“The new normal,” some people are calling it. But there’s nothing normal about it. 

Not one blessed thing.

There’s nothing “normal” about the average American leaving home to go to work, or to school, or church, or a movie or concert or the shopping mall, and wondering as they leave if this will be the day they won’t be coming home to their family.

There are certain occupations - law enforcement officers, firefighters, miltary members - for whom that possibility is - and should be - a legitimate daily concern. Those who choose to serve in those professions understand that risk, and accept it. That’s why they are heroes.

But it should not be a daily fear plaguing the minds of school teachers. Or their students. Or young couples looking forward to date night at the movies. Or the faithful who turn out for Bible study. Or someone who just ran into the store for a carton of eggs or a new pair of jeans.

Or staff members at a community newspaper.

 The fact that it was my profession that was specifically targeted this time around adds a whole new dimension of horror and grief for those of us who love this line of work and care about the communties we serve. 

Every time one of these mass shootings takes place, there is inevitably someone interviewed by reporters who will say: “It could happen to any one of us.” If that fact hadn’t already been driven home for us, it certainly has been now.

I remember the expression on the face of my father - a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Bradley, Ill., for nearly 30 years - on the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1986, when he learned about the post office shooting that had occurred in Edmond, Okla., earlier that day. Each new mass shooting that has happened since that awful day has left me feeling a range of emotions - grief, anger, frustration - but until last Thursday I never truly felt what my father must have felt that late summer day almost 32 years ago.

But accompanying my own increased sense of dread was an increased sense of pride in my profession, as the staff members of the Annapolis Capital Gazette - even in the midst of their mourning and anger - managed to pull together and get out the next morning’s issue of the newspaper. 

Proof, if there ever was any, of the love a newspaper has for its community, and its dedication to serving that community even in the darkest of moments.

Five of their own had been viciously, senselessly gunned down. It doesn’t get much darker than that. And everyone lauded them for it.

Everyone, that is, but Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He was too busy voicing his outrage over a comment made by one of the surviving Capital Gazette staffers during a television interview. 

Selene San Felice survived the shooting by hiding under a desk. She was one of those who somehow managed to set aside her own personal trauma long enough to help get that next day’s paper to press. 

So even to those of us whose personal first-hand experience with such senseless tragedies has been limited to watching and reading the news reports, it was - or should have been - perfectly understandable when San Felice stated, “I’m going to need more than a couple days of news coverage and some thoughts and prayers because our whole lives have been shattered.”

And then, in what must have been for her a moment of sheer emotional honesty fueled by shock and anger and fatigue, San Felice added, “Thanks for your prayers, but I couldn’t give a (expletive deleted) about them if there’s nothing else.”

Many were taken aback by the frankness of the comment. Myself included. But most of us understood. It was a “heat of the moment” response, one born of the horror this staff member had personally witnessed and survived. 

Most of us not only understood, but sympathized. Who among us can honestly say we would never respond in similar fashion if it were us in that situation? Shock and fear makes a person say and do things they wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances.

But Sen. Rubio - a man not exactly known for being one of our finest orators, and whose most important contribution to future history books will be the fact that he was one of the 16 major GOP candidates who  lost the 2016 presidential nomination to Donald Trump, of all people -  said not one word about this latest American mass killing. Instead, he sent out a message on Twitter criticizing San Felice for uttering the expletive.

Yeah, Marco, THAT’S the REAL problem, isn’t it? 

And what of the man who so embarassed Sen. Rubio and those 15 other candidates? Before heading out for another weekend of golf, the president stood before the cameras and told us that the deaths of these five newspaper employees “shocked the conscience of our nation,” and that journalists should be “free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

And so, at long last, there was finally something upon which the current occupant of the White House and I actually do agree. 

But the words still rang a little hollow, coming as they did from a president who, at a rally just days before, repeated his previous accusations that journalists are the “enemies of America.”

A man who started referring to journalists as “traitors” long before the election, and who has repeatedly encouraged supporters to demonstrate hatred towards those of us who, in the early days of America, were lauded by none other than Thomas Jefferson - who famously had his own love-hate relationship with the press of his day - as being perhaps the most important component of the nation he helped to create.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” Jefferson said. No truer words were ever spoken. 

And most presidents, even those who often battled with the press, have understood this. Even Richard Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal, never exhibited - at least in public -  the brand of open hostility towards the free press that has been the hallmark of our current president.

“By the way, I hate some of these people,” the president has said about reporters. And it shows.

In the hours that immediately followed last week’s shooting, there was much discussion on social media regarding whether or not the perpetrator may have been a Trump supporter. That was to be expected, I suppose, given the current climate in this country.

And even with the understanding that the gunman had a long-standing grudge against the paper he attacked, I for one can’t help thinking that, yes, the president’s encouragement to hate the media did in some way contribute to the madness this time.

(Column copyright © 2018 by John A. Small)


Fandom, Disney Is Killing "Star Wars"

June 12, 2018

In one of the better-known installments of the Peanuts comic strip, Linus makes the following observation during a conversation with Charlie Brown: “I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand!!”

I'm starting to feel much the same way with regards to Star Wars. I still love George Lucas' creation - it's the fans and the new distributor I'm learning to hate.

I just read an article stating that Solo: A Star Wars Story may end up being the first Star Wars movie to lose money, and that R...

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May 30, 2018

Hadn't had the time to do this before today, due to deadline pressures at my day job and other obligations, so I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts regarding  Solo: A Star Wars Story.

WHAT I LIKED: Pretty much everything, despite my initial misgivings about the project. Alden Ehrenreich actually did a pretty fair job of channeling Harrison Ford as the title character (Ford has made similar comments himself in a couple of interviews I’ve read), and Donald Glover made a better Land...

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May The FIRST Be With You...

May 2, 2018

Something occurred to me the other day, as I was trying to wash the bad residue of the day’s national news cycle from my psyche by going back to the stuff I loved as a kid…

George Lucas (or maybe it was Alan Dean Foster) predicted the rise of Donald Trump.

Way back in December of 1976, roughly six months before the movie actually debuted in theaters, Ballantine/Del Rey Books released the novelization of the film Star Wars. The book carried the byline of the film’s writer-director, Geo...

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November 21, 2017
We didn’t have a whole lot of what you might call “hard and fast rules” in the Small household when my younger brothers and I were growing up.

Compared to some of my classmates – especially a couple of fellows I knew whose fathers appeared to run their households like German stalags, and wielded an iron hand even over visitors of all ages who usually left looking shell-shocked - life was actually... well, I hesitate to say that it was relatively cushy, but it definitely could have bee...
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RAY LOKEY: 1953-2017

November 21, 2017

(Note: The following is a transcript of my eulogy for my employer and friend, Johnston County Capital-Democrat Publisher Ray Lokey, which was delivered on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Ray's memorial service. The service was held in Fletcher Auditoirum on the campus of Murray State College in Tishomingo.)

I've been agonizing all week about what I was going to say when I got up here… It's hard to sum up in just a few short minutes a relationship that lasted over a quarter of a century. But let me sta...
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October 11, 2017
It is a sad fact of life that, all too often, we become so bogged down with the minutiae and infinitia of everyday life that we find ourselves accidentally forgetting the really important stuff.

That almost happened to me this week. I got so busy tackling what was required of me while working on this week’s issue of the Capital-Democrat that it almost - almost - slipped my mind that today (Wednesday, Oct. 11) would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.

It’s hard to believe that it has almo...
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October 6, 2017
Last night I finished reading Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study In Charlotte, the first book in a trilogy about Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson - the great-great-great-granddaughter and great-great-great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The story is set in the modern day at a prep school in Connecticut, where both protagonists have been sent by their respective families for different reasons and who meet quite by accident (or so we are first led to believe).

Jamie is a rugby player ...

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September 7, 2017
“Eleanor Rigby” is one of the most popular of the hundreds of songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and recorded by the Beatles. It is also one of the best examples of their growing maturity as lyricists at the time, a song containing poetic qualities not found in such earlier works as “She Loves You” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Unlike so many of those earlier compositions, which for all their energy were merely variations of the traditional love song, “Eleanor Rigby...

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August 16, 2017

My wife Melissa, son Joshua and I were in Monroe, Louisiana, sitting in the living room of our dear friends Win and Lisa Eckert last Saturday, talking about any number of things - most of them far removed from this place we (sometimes grudgingly) refer to as “the Real World” - when we got the news about the act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Like so many others - like anyone with even a trace of human decency in their soul an...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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