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Standard Deviations: A tale of newspaper security over the years

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner - | Jul 1, 2018

Thanks to an unhinged gunman with a grudge against an East Coast newspaper, it’s about to start heating up here in the Standard-Examiner’s newsroom.

Quite literally.

Immediately following last Thursday’s horrific mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, Standard-Examiner publisher Rhett Long announced that all security doors in his building would henceforth be kept closed and locked. It’s a sad but necessary precaution against potential copycat incidents — not to mention a reaction to a culture that’s becoming increasingly hostile toward a free press.

RELATED: 5 dead, gunman in custody after shooting at Capital Gazette building in Annapolis, police say

Admittedly, security had become a little lax at the Standard-Examiner.

When I first started at this newspaper, back in 1985, the offices were in the former Ogden armory building downtown. At the time, we were issued old-school metal keys to get into the building.

We also had around-the-clock, armed security guards — armed, people — who took their jobs very seriously.

But that kind of full-time security is expensive, and over the years the company gradually dialed it back.

RELATED: Capital Gazette shooting suspect held without bond on five counts of murder

Not that heightened security wasn’t occasionally warranted. Years back, editorial cartoonist Cal Grondahl angered a reader to the point that a threat was made against his life. As I recall, the threat involved tampering with Cal’s vehicle — specifically, planting a bomb under the hood.

Security guards responded with increased surveillance of the cartoonist’s vehicle when it was in the newspaper’s parking lot. Newsroom staffers, on the other hand, responded with the suggestion that the rest of us get bumper stickers for our own vehicles that read “NOT Cal’s car.”

Eventually, the threat passed.

Then, in early 1999, security was again beefed up for a time after a woman walked into the KSL television studios in Salt Lake City and started shooting.

However, by the following year we’d moved into our current location in Business Depot Ogden, and we were down to a single security guard — a moonlighting local police officer. And he only worked during regular business hours.

Eventually, even that protection was dropped, and the only thing standing between employees and a possible crazed gunman was a nice receptionist at the front desk and magnetic key cards for the security doors leading into the various departments of the newspaper.

Which brings us to our overheating newsroom problem.

About 10 years ago, we were having some trouble with the air handling systems at the Standard-Examiner. Parts of the building — including the newsroom — had become unbearably hot, and the only way to get any relief was to prop open the interior security door to the newsroom to get air circulating.

Shortly after that, our then-publisher decided he wanted a more open, inviting atmosphere at the newspaper. He directed all interior doors to be unlocked and propped open permanently.

And so, for the better part of the last decade, the Standard-Examiner has been an open business with few locked doors.

But no more. Following last week’s shooting, the newspaper has become a place of tightly closed and locked doors.

These days there’s also an almost imperceptible undercurrent of uneasiness at the newspaper — which, it occurs to me, is quite possibly what our schoolchildren have been feeling in recent years. And the fact that this latest shooting may have stemmed from a reader angry at a newspaper columnist has me feeling particularly sick to my stomach.

But eventually, the memory of Thursday’s shooting will fade, just like it has for all the other mass shootings that have become so commonplace that we simply shrug our collective shoulders.

And then, one day, an air conditioning unit at the Standard-Examiner will go out, and it will become unbearably hot in the newsroom.

And without thinking, somebody will prop open a door …

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.


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