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Local Column

Akst: Time to ride into the sunset (for now)

Early in my reporting career, I saw a guy die after being stabbed in the heart. He got stabbed because he crashed a keg party.

Other than the loss of life, the worst part of that story – ask any journalist – is that things like that happen all the time.

All the time.

That lesson kept me from being surprised, but not from being heartbroken, by Wednesday’s news that two journalists covering a routine local story in Virginia were ruthlessly murdered by a self-described “powder keg” using a legally purchased gun, who recorded his murders and uploaded them to Facebook.

The United States has averaged more than one mass shooting a day this year, according to a Washington Post article published Wednesday that cites data from a group that tracks gun violence.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data (2013), of incidents in which somebody died at work, almost one in 10 were homicides.

As Think Progress notes, “That’s more than were killed by fires and explosions, getting caught in equipment or machinery, and exposure to harmful substances combined. Guns are, by far, the most common instrument that kills people at work. In 2013, there were 316 fatal, intentional workplace shootings.”

I’m struggling to find words to articulate the horror. The words that keep coming to mind aren’t mine. They’re Paul Simon’s, from “An American Tune”: “Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on, I wonder what’s gone wrong. I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong.”

I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families, and sad the shooter became so desperate, he resorted to this abomination. I’m also reminded that journalism is often a dangerous business.

A business I still love and believe crucial to functioning society.

But Wednesday’s murders were the straw that broke this camel’s back. This will be my last column for the Daily Chronicle for at least a few months, maybe forever.

The other “straws” are much more mundane. The simple truth is I’m over-committed, have been for many months, and I need to let something (maybe a few somethings) go.

I teach journalism and wanted to keep active in the field wherever possible. That’s the main reason I write this column. It’s been an extraordinary experience, but when I began writing “The Fine Line,” I thought I’d try it for a few months, mostly just for the experience.

That was more than three years ago. It’s time to step back because my edges are dulled and my nerves are frayed. Serious mistakes happen in these circumstances. Besides, there are some other, different writing projects I want to see if I can do.

The fall 2015 semester at Northern Illinois University began this week and, once again, my day job is to help my students learn what I have learned over the years. That needs to be my focus now.

In case we don’t meet again, please allow me to say it’s been a privilege and an honor to voice my opinion in these pages. Thank you.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as Executive Secretary for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association. Learn more about NINA at http://ninaonline.org. You can reach him at jasondakst@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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