Police probe attacks on home of small-town newspaper editor

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ATLANTA — State police are trying to figure out why someone smashed a brick through the window of a small-town, south Georgia newspaper editor’s home, then fired gunshots into the house and tried to light his vehicle on fire.

There’s been an outpouring of support for Ben Baker, the editor of the Wiregrass Farmer in Ashburn, but the reasons behind the attacks remain a mystery.

“People are coming up to me telling me they’re praying for me and the family,” Baker said. “People have contributed to the reward fund, and I’ve had people say ... they’ll come sit in my yard with a shotgun.”

Baker hasn’t taken anyone up on that offer, but says he’s deeply appreciative of the support from residents in Ashburn, a city of roughly 4,200 people about 160 miles south of Atlanta. His 2,100-circulation Wiregrass Farmer prints the kind of pictures people put up on their refrigerators: photos of schoolchildren, athletic teams and civic groups.

After Baker’s kitchen window was shattered in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 30, police found that someone had also poured gasoline into one of his vehicles in an attempt to set it on fire.

About 13 or 14 hours later, someone fired a gun into the home while Baker and his family were inside, Ashburn police said.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Baker said.

The case has now been turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Ashburn Police Chief Joe Saxon said.

The latest incident happened five days ago at the newspaper’s office, where someone damaged the building’s power meter.

This week’s issue featured a front-page photo of a firefighter using a fire hose to knock down suds in a fountain at a park after someone added detergent to it as a prank. There was also coverage of annual awards for firefighters and conservationists – typical items.

Despite the lack of any obvious story that might have enraged readers, items such as arrest reports sometimes do anger people.

“In the business we’re in, we make people mad – that’s just simply a given,” Baker said.

“Nobody likes to see their name in the arrest reports,” he said. “We get a lot of people who say ‘Can you keep my name out of the paper?’ and I say no and they get mad.”

The names stay in the arrest reports, Baker said, because “people have to trust the media to present the whole story, the full story and the accurate story.

“In that regard those of us who work on small weekly papers enjoy a level of trust in our community that is unsurpassed, and they look to me to tell them the truth,” he said.

Baker said he isn’t sure whether someone has a particular beef with him personally, or the newspaper generally.

It could be both — after all, he’s the public face of the publication around town.

“When you deal with newspapers, especially weekly newspapers across the nation, the editor is the newspaper,” he said. “Whatever goes into the paper, whatever is done at the paper, whatever happens, people say ‘The editor did it.’ Like it or not, I am this newspaper.”

Baker said he has no plans to change the newspaper’s coverage as a result of the crimes.

“We do not shy from controversy,” he said.


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