THIS week’s massacre in a US newsroom by a twisted individual bearing a gun and a grudge was symptomatic of a wider attack on the press.

Reporters operating in war zones know only too well that they are sometimes literally in the line of fire but an increasing number of those being killed are murdered for their investigations into political corruption and organised crime.

When senior political figures think it’s ok to go on the warpath with journalism then is it any wonder that some members of the public follow suit?

The ‘fake news’ slurs and nasty verbal abuse hurled at reporters via social media are part of a dangerous trend which threatens democracy and justice.

Less than 24 hours before the killing of five people at the Capital Gazette's offices in Annapolis on Thursday, crowds booed the media at a presidential rally in North Dakota after Mr Trump suggested they covered him unfairly.

Two days earlier, the president pointed towards journalists at a rally in South Carolina and called them “the enemy of the people”.

He added: “Look at all those fake-newsers back there.”

Vitriol towards journalists was also a recurring theme of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I would never kill them, but I do hate them,” he told an audience in December 2015. “Some of them are such lying, disgusting people. It’s true.”

Reporters do not enter the profession to win popularity contests. We understand that asking tough questions, exposing criminals, cheats, dodgy politicians, liars, abusers and thugs has the potential to invoke a backlash. The Echo found that out when Cleveland Police monitored their phones when some of its reporters investigated alleged racism on the force.

Reporters are thick-skinned.

"We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow," tweeted Chase Cook, a Capital Gazette reporter as the team worked in the car park to get the paper out.

Their defiance and bravery is typical of reporters worldwide who continue to do their jobs despite intimidation.

If the public values its free, independent press, then it must support and protect reporters rather than see them as targets.