2 Sun staffers look behind story of Waverly killing

PUBLIC EDITOR

September 24, 2006|By Paul Moore

The first report of Antonio Gilmore's death was a short, three-paragraph story inside The Sun's Sept. 15 Maryland section. The story, with the accompanying headline "Blockbuster manager fatally shot in store," described how Gilmore had been killed by two gunmen during a robbery attempt at a video store in the Waverly section of Baltimore.

A police spokeswoman said the two men who entered the store shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Sept 14, announced a holdup and fled after shooting Gilmore without taking anything. Gilmore, 38, was pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The next day Sun editors decided to pursue the Antonio Gilmore case and assigned reporter Lynn Anderson and photographer Amy Davis to do a follow-up story. The subsequent Sept. 16 article reported that Gilmore was a popular and well-known resident of a city neighborhood that had seen its quality of life improve in recent years. The story endeavored to put Gilmore's life into perspective and to describe how his killing had affected the community in which he lived.

In my view, this is essential daily reporting. It puts a human face on what could have otherwise become just another crime statistic. These stories - sometimes undervalued by editors and often overshadowed by more high-profile news - are still the heart and soul of a daily metropolitan newspaper.

My concern is that not enough readers saw the follow-up story because of its small play at the bottom of the Sept. 16 Maryland section front.

This was the same day that The Sun's front page gave generous play to a feature story with the headline "A visit to Baltimore's Club Bed; Bar has king-size mattresses for lounging, sipping, etc." That story's prominent play reflected the newspaper's efforts to attract younger readers and to offer others more varied reading choices. Several readers, however, questioned the high visibility of the "Club Bed" article.

"I really question devoting so much space on the front page and inside the paper to this kind of story," reader Eleanor Taylor said. "It seems out of place."

To get the details of Gilmore's life and the feelings of the community, Anderson and Davis talked to family members in three different homes and customers at the Blockbuster store. Gilmore's sister-in-law Deborah Gilmore, whose husband, Garcia "Gus" Gilmore, is a detective with the Baltimore City Police Department, was the most accessible.

"Reporters often get a rap for bugging families who are grieving the death of a loved one," said Anderson. "But in most cases I find that people want to share stories about the deceased. Once Deborah Gilmore started to talk about her brother-in-law she couldn't stop."

After Garcia Gilmore told Anderson that "my heart is broken," she decided the interviews were over. "I knew that I had enough to illuminate Antonio Gilmore's life and in respect for his family's grief, we left immediately," she said.

People who are thrust into crisis or tragedy deserve special consideration from journalists. In this instance the two Sun journalists successfully walked the fine line between being sensitive to those they interviewed and still getting information that was valuable to readers.

Another relative, Deatra Gilmore, sent this e-mail to Anderson after the story was published: "Thank you for the article on my cousin Tony. He will be greatly missed."

Details about why Gilmore will be greatly missed are what gave the story its relevance. "Everyone knew him. ... He was a good guy, a real good guy," one neighbor told Anderson. His mother-in-law described his devotion to his children, his first wife described his sense of style and his employer praised his work ethic.

The article also reported that the killing occurred in the revitalized Memorial Stadium neighborhood, where a popular farmers' market, a new Giant supermarket and the Blockbuster outlet have helped boost property values and community involvement. Anderson included comments from residents who expressed fear that news reports of the shooting would hurt the area's overall progress.

Violent crime is not just a Baltimore City problem. Another news item published next to the original three-paragraph article about Gilmore's shooting reported that the bodies of two men with fatal gunshot wounds had been found in a condominium in Harford County.

Still, reader Ernie Richardson reacted to the Gilmore articles from a Baltimore perspective: "At this election time, it is amazing to me that no one has really spoken out about young people dying in our cities. ... I am not sure what it will take before people really try to do something about this terrible situation. But most of society will not mourn the victims of senseless crimes like this one."

If nothing else, this article allowed readers to share the sense of loss of those who knew Antonio Gilmore. This has significant value.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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