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Year End Check-In With 'Capital Gazette' Photojournalist, Joshua McKerrow

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A few days ago, December 6, photojournalist Joshua McKerrow was doing what he does - taking photos. McKerrow works for the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., and he was assigned the annual story on holiday decorations at the governor's residence - a fun story, light story, an assignment that McKerrow draws every year. And every year, his reporting partner has been writer Wendi Winters. But Winters was killed in June. She's one of five staffers who died when a gunman burst into the Gazette newsroom and started shooting. McKerrow says he thought he could hold it together the other day at the governor's residence. He tweeted that he was moving through the rooms, hauling his tripod, trying to focus on the ornaments. And all he could think about was Wendi. Joshua McKerrow joins me now. Good to speak with you again.

JOSHUA MCKERROW: Good to speak with you, too. Thank you.

KELLY: And I should note that I say again because you and I first spoke right after the shooting when everyone was in shock. And I do want to ask you how the months since then have gone. But would you start with this moment at the governor's residence? You wrote that as you were moving through the rooms, you could hear her voice. And the detail I loved was that in your mind, she was talking about baking cookies.

MCKERROW: Yes. She loved going into the governor's residence. It was just so exciting to her, and she loved writing about the decorations and the historical things. And she was especially excited because the governor holds an open house. And they make hundreds and hundreds of cookies. And so she was just always very excited about the cookies. You know, looking back on it, it was - it didn't seem like an incredibly newsworthy item to me, like - but going there this year, you know, without Wendi, it was just all I could think about.

KELLY: And I guess Wendi herself was known for baking cookies for the newsroom, famous Oreo holiday cookies.

MCKERROW: Yes. Every year in the newsroom - every year, Wendi would make - God, it must have been hundreds of cookies. She would give every single person in the newsroom a bag of cookies. She'd make Oreos, and she'd dip them in chocolate and sprinkle kind of crushed peppermint candy canes over them. You know, at the time, we all kind of rolled our eyes at it and - like, oh, isn't that sweet? And they'd sit in our drawers for months sometimes.

KELLY: (Laughter).

MCKERROW: And kind of, like - I kept them, like, my little emergency cookies. Like, I kind of call them my hurricane cookies.

KELLY: A lot of people have been reaching out and offering to bake cookies for the newsroom. What's your response to that been?

MCKERROW: It's very touching. And, you know, it means a lot. We had kind of thought that this story was over for us, like the world had moved on, that what happened in June at the Capital was just not - I don't want to say not important to people, but, you know, there's been so much tragedy and loss that's happened since then that we kind of thought that, well, you know, the world has moved on. And to see that just me writing about my friend and how much I miss her - we're doing fine on cookies. We have a small staff, so we're covered on cookies. You know, I think online I encouraged people to make cookies for where they work, you know, to kind of recognize and appreciate the people that you spend most of your time with.

KELLY: Your series of tweets from that day, December 6, at the governor's residence - they begin as a response to a tweet from the president, who tweeted that same day in all capital letters, fake news - the enemy of the people. And I want to know, Joshua McKerrow. Why was that something that you wanted to respond to?

MCKERROW: It had been a long day. It had been an emotional day, you know, just being - feeling so close to Wendi. And it made me think about Rebecca and Gerald and Rob and John. And it made me think about my friends in the newsroom who suffer to this day and will suffer for years from what happened in June. So it was an emotional day. I saw a tweet right about the same time that I also saw that there were bomb threats coming into CNN.

I have felt a lot of emotions at once. There was a level of anger to it, but there was also kind of a level of, come on. Like, after everything that we're going through, everything that the country is going through, why would you do that? What possible reason is there to just reach out and hurt people like that? I hate to say that. I hate to say that the president of the United States reaches out and hurts people, but that's what it felt like. It felt like he reached out and hurt me.

KELLY: I'll point out for people who haven't seen your Twitter feed you actually didn't make this personal. You didn't reply directly to President Trump, but you re-tweeted it. And later in your Twitter feed, you wrote this. Please consider subscribing to your local newspaper. And you added, we're your neighbors; we are not your enemies; we are you.

MCKERROW: Yes. I wrote that because it's true. I'm a journalist. It's my job to report what I know to be accurate. I don't want to make this personal. It's certainly in a way to honor my friends.

KELLY: You all are still putting out a paper every day. You're not back in the newsroom where this happened.

MCKERROW: No, we're never going back to the old newsroom. We're in a temporary location in Annapolis, a secret location, if you can believe that.

KELLY: Is the secret location for security reasons?

MCKERROW: Yes.

KELLY: Yeah.

MCKERROW: Yes, security is a daily concern for the newsroom.

KELLY: Do you have any kind of memorial or marker to the five who died in the new newsroom?

MCKERROW: Yes, actually. There are two large walls covered floor to ceiling with letters from people after the 28th. And we talk about them a lot, too. At least I try to. I don't want their names to be triggers of sadness or triggers of trauma. I want, you know - I like to bring up, oh, do you remember that time Wendi - you know, Wendi did this? Or, well, Rob would always say, you know, such and such, or - we try to keep their names and their memories and what they did very alive in the newsroom.

KELLY: What has been the reaction in the newsroom to being named Time Person of the Year? I should say this year Time People of the Year. You and your colleagues at the Gazette are among the journalists recognized, and they cite your courage after the shooting.

MCKERROW: It's - I'm going to quote the editor of the Capital newspaper, Rick Hutzell. He said it's a great and terrible honor. And he's exactly right. You know, other people have said this, and, you know, I feel the same way. We'd give every bit of it back - every bit of attention, every - everything back just to have them, just to be able to come in again and argue about our assignments and bicker and share cookies at Christmas. And if we could have Rebecca and Wendi and Gerald and Rob and John back, we'd give it all back in a second.

KELLY: When you and I talked in June right after the shooting, I asked what had gotten you through that horrific day. And you said it's the work. We put our head down. And you just do the work, and what a relief that was. What about the weeks and months since, these last six months? What's gotten you through?

MCKERROW: I got to say my answer is still the same - the mission. If anything, it's more important than it's ever been. It was just so important that we go out and do the journalism and, you know, report the truth as we find it and be accurate and ethical and honest because that's the bedrock of our democracy.

And then after the shooting, it became important to show that we couldn't be stopped, we couldn't be silenced, we could not be - we could not be intimidated by rhetoric or violence, that we're still there. We have had no employees leave the Capital since the shooting. Everyone who was in the newsroom that day is in the newsroom today. Everyone who survived is still an employee of the Capital Gazette and still working their hardest to serve the community.

KELLY: Joshua, thank you.

MCKERROW: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Photojournalist Joshua McKerrow of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. A gunman killed five people in that newsroom on June 28. They were Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Wendi Winters. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.