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'The Capital Matters To Annapolis': Capital Gazette Staff, Supporters Rally Over Office Closure

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Capital Gazette employees and supporters rallied Monday as parent company Tribune Publishing closes the newsroom's office in Annapolis due to financial concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Tribune Publishing announced the newsroom's closure as part of a series of similar moves that also impacted the Carroll County Times in Westminster and papers in Florida and Pennsylvania. The papers will continue to print.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, employees have been working largely from their homes and vehicles.

The group rallied on water and land in downtown Annapolis, decrying the cuts.

"Having an office meant everything to me, and taking it away meant nothing to the people of Tribune," Capital reporter Selene San Felice told the group.

Journalists will instead be given office space at the Baltimore Sun offices, which San Felice said was not a suitable alternative.

The newspaper has had a presence in Annapolis since the 1800s.

"They say there's going to be desks and filing cabinets and all that there for us in Baltimore, but we don't cover Baltimore. We cover Anne Arundel County, and we want to be in Anne Arundel County," she said.

The announcement came just over two years after a 2018 mass shooting left five newsroom employees -- Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters -- dead.

"When Tribune announced they were shutting down our newsroom, it kind of added insult to injury," reporter Danielle Ohl said.

After the shooting, the newsroom's staff members moved to a new location.

"We were only in it, the new newsroom, for about a year, but it was a tremendous place of healing for us," reporter Rachael Pacella said. "And this just shows, not only do they not care about the community, but they don't care about the journalists who suffered in the past."

McNamara's widow Andrea Chamblee also spoke at Monday's rally.

"It was never more obvious to me after the shooting when they rose up out of their own grief to help each other not just through the reporting of it but the surviving of it," she said.

The newspaper earned a special Pulitzer Prize for its reporting following the shooting.

Tribune told employees the pandemic played a role in the closure.

We understand and are sensitive to how challenging this decision is for our Annapolis-based employees, especially in the wake of the tragedy two years ago when we lost five of our colleagues. Like many companies, we made a decision in March that most of our employees across the country would not be working in our offices because of the pandemic, and as the pandemic progressed we learned that will continue through at least early next year. Our journalists and other employees at the Capital Gazette and across Tribune have worked remotely successfully and we are consolidating some of our real estate as we navigate revenue declines that have been worsened by the economic impact of the pandemic. When it is safe for us to return to our newsrooms, those at the Capital Gazette will have dedicated space in our Baltimore offices. We take our responsibility to these communities seriously and remain steadfast to providing the in-depth community coverage that our readers cannot get anywhere else.

"We have no illusions about the impact of our industry, but we also know Tribune is a profitable company," Ohl responded.

Staff members have another week to gather their belongings.

"The Capital matters to Annapolis. The Capital's reporters matter to Annapolis. So thank you, and keep supporting our papers," Phil Davis said to applause.

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