37

[Godzilla noise]

To make a long story short, you know how turbulent the United States of America is right now. For the most part, I’ve been in my tiny space in my house working. I thought about posting the text of my semiweekly newsletters, but I never got around to it because I’ve been exhausted. I mean, I’ve been going nonstop since March, I moved in May and I’ve had to deal with other stuff along with that.

Because of everything going on, there isn’t a good time to take vacation. So I just went on vacation.

Also, it’s my birthday.

Tomorrow’s my last day off after taking a week off. I’ve done a lot of nothing, and it feels great. I could have worked on some writing. I could have edited two things. I haven’t slept this long since sophomore year, when I worked out my schedule perfectly and didn’t have any classes before noon. I binged the first season of Head of the Class, both seasons of The Politician, got through nearly all of season three of Hill Street Blues and started rewatching Taxi and The Bob Newhart Show. I’ve eaten an entire apple pie. I’ve only somewhat paid attention to the news. I only kinda know what’s going on at work.

Although being off has been great, I can only think about my fellow journalists who have been furloughed and laid off. It’s awful that at a time like this, newsrooms are cutting staffs and making people take unpaid time off. No one is to blame except for corporate leaders who didn’t see this coming all the way back at the time of America Online and the early days of Craigslist and apartment search websites. And the venture capitalists who came in saying they’re going to save newspapers but instead are trying to squeeze out every penny. I could go on, but I won’t.

There’s a Virginia Is For Journalists Relief Fund. It’s had several stretch goals since it began and is now seeking $25,000. If you’re able, send them a few dollars. I’ve donated. Less than two years ago, hell, even now, a furlough would kill me. My profession is in crisis for many reasons, but a lot of the problems don’t lie with the people getting affected the most.

the (temporary?) new normal

Beware the Ides of March

Katy suggested that I write down my feelings about what’s going on. She’s right that I should, but I haven’t really though about how I feel about what’s going on. I’ve been in the cockpit for work nonstop since Monday, things escalated on Wednesday. As journalists, it’s easy to be desensitized to things like a global pandemic, or at least pretend that we are. And we definitely internalize all that we see and just try to move on when it’s over. We shouldn’t, so here goes.

I miss my mom. I had hoped to go to her house this weekend, but now I don’t know when I’ll be able to go to Hampton again. My mom’s nearly 70, Hampton Roads is an area where there are a lot of cases of COVID-19. and, although there are no confirmed cases in the Charlottesville area, I’ve come in contact with my reporters, who may have come in contact with people who are infected. For all I know, I’m one of the lucky few who shows no symptoms, and I’d never forgive myself if I get my mom sick.

This is such a strange time, though. Up until about Wednesday, things were somewhat business as usual. And there still are some things that still are set in motion. My lease in this apartment is over in 60 days, so I need to start packing at some point. I think I’ve found where we’ll live next, and I want to excited about that prospect. Instead, I’m wondering if a moving company would be open then to help us. On the bright side, if we have to stay at home and a company helps us move, I can spend a lot of time setting up the new place.

But this really drives home how quickly things can change. For the most part, we know that young and able-bodied people tend be OK, but we don’t know exactly what OK is because it is a new virus. Is there lasting lung damage? Does it cause any other problems down the line?

So, for now, I’m mostly in my apartment unless I’m walking Missy, going for a drive in general or … well, in about a week and a half, we’re going to have to get groceries. And I know that, if restaurants are open in some capacity, I’m going to get some sort of takeout. It’s going to be rough because I’m not as much as an introvert as I seem. I already miss people. But staying healthy is more important than being social.

Collectively, we will get through this. And when we do, keep washing your dang hands.

fourteen years

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know exactly why I’m too tired right now to do this post correctly. It’s wall-to-wall COVID-19 coverage everywhere. I didn’t expect to be working on content on a pandemic back when I started doing this in 2006.

Some of you know this story: I began working in Petersburg and got an offered to have a job interview for the job I wanted in Richmond (which I got 10 years later). When I look back at everyone I met and the lives that have been effected by me toughing it out in Petersburg, I wouldn’t trade that for any other potential scenario.

If not for my nearly three years in that tiny newsroom, I would have missed out on some great people. I’m way too existed to go into detail about all of them, but if we became friends between 2006 and now and I’m only a phone call, group chat or text away, you mean a lot to me. And I’m glad I get to say that about a lot of people. You have enriched my life as much, if not more, than the journalism that brought me to you.

Now it’s nearly time to go to sleep. I still got a lot of work to do. And it’s an honor to do it.

the final nail in the coffin

The plan was simple: The owners of the Hopewell News website let the domain expire because they killed the website last year. The Appomattox Regional Library System had digitized much of the newspaper’s archives. Once the site went up for sale, I’ll grab it (because who else would want it) and give it to the library to house the archives. If I’m lucky, I’ll get some donations over and beyond the cost of the site and also give them some money that would go toward finishing the digitization.

It didn’t go according to plan.

I’ve never done any crowdfunding before, and I’m not in any circles of people who would care about Hopewell. Additionally, someone who’s probably a cybersquatter set a very high proxy bid amount. (When I saw that there was an autobid every time I tried to end up on top, I went up to the max on my card. I hope dude enjoys the site for how much I made him pay for it.)

I probably should have approached the previous owners about turning the site over to me, but I figured they’d wouldn’t be amenable to any of my proposals. I still might contact them, though.

I still made a donation to the library. It wasn’t the grand gesture I had hoped it would have been, but it was better than nothing.

Until the library digitizes the last 14 years of the paper, there’s a gap in that city’s history. And that gap includes my entire time there. But this isn’t just about having not a lot to show for a lot of years of hard work.

Local news is important. It’s often the first and only draft of history. There were rivals in surrounding areas, but the Hopewell journalists were in that community daily. We amplified what’s been missing, and that’s why I still do what I do. I don’t want narratives to get lost.

I hope the current paper there, the Hopewell Herald, gets a proper online presence and is getting preserved. I hope the Hopewell News gets fully digitized. I hope the Hopewell News website serves the community once again.

But that’s it. It’s gone. It’s over. It was a formative period of my life but it’s time, about 11 years after I first stepped into 516 E. Randolph Road, to truly move on.

0629 ―> 434

This is my new theme song.
Mariupol meets Charlottesville

Last week was an adventure. For three days we hosted an online news outlet from Mariupol, Ukraine, through a program with the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX). The name of the outlet, 0629, is the city’s area code. If all goes well, we’ll send a delegation there next year (there’s a chance that we’ll go to the country of Georgia instead or both).

Part of their visit included a tour of one of our TV stations.

Along with having tours of some cultural sites in the area, the had a tour at CBS19 in the are and we swapped stories about how our newsrooms operate. Their story is a fascinating one because Mariupol was close to the battles of the (ongoing) Russian military intervention in Ukraine. They had some major challenges as they tried to operate as an independent newsroom in an area where that often doesn’t happen and another country actively waged a misinformation campaign.

I saw to it that they learned a lot about the area’s Black history.

A lot of things were oddly familiar, and we also learned a lot from them. It also gave me a new perspective on what we did. In trying to avoid having the interpreter translate figures of speech, it made me think really hard about what we do and why.

Their newsroom signed a Ukrainian Flag and gave it to us

That brings us to today. We have year-end reviews and we’re looking toward 2020. We’ve done a lot in the past year, especially in the past six months, and we’re looking forward to building on the momentum that we’re starting to build. I’m excited about what we’re setting out to do next year. We’re learning a new journalism model as we go, and I plan on charting the next few months during our Christmas break. It’s been a while since a newsroom truly has been mine, and it’s time to put the pedal down.

I’m glad I sat down and watched The Irishman on Saturday so I have the perfect music for it.

home is a fire

Noise, cars on the freeway
Attempting a clean break
There’s nowhere left to go
Watching the room sweep
Through cracks in the concrete

Codes and Keys is my least favorite Death Cab for Cutie album. (I wrote a half-page review of it in the Hopewell News because no one could stop me.) I’m listening to it all the way through for the first time in a long time, and it’s reminding me about why I didn’t like it. It had nothing to do with the album sounding a little too upbeat form a Death Cab album.

It was about 2011 itself. In retrospect, it was a whirlwind because I felt like I needed to make some changes.

In January, I bought a replica of Jules’ wallet from Pulp Fiction (I finally retired it this summer.) In February, I prematurely sent out a query letter for Brown River Blues. (It still had the old ending at the time, so it would have been terrible.) In March, I took a trip to New York that I decided would be the last time I would see Renée because I still loved her but she was six hours away and I was doing nothing but torturing myself. In April, I was on a journalism panel, but I was thinking about getting out of journalism by May.

In June, because of controversy between my college newspaper and the administration, this blog, which had just became hosted on this domain, had a brief spike in popularity because it was the definitive source of what was going on. At the same time, I was wondering whether I would even keep this thing going.

In July, I had decided that I had carried the Hopewell News as far as I could. I decided I wanted to stay in journalism, so in August, I applied to be a copy editor in Jacksonville, North Carolina. In September, the Hopewell Publishing Co. building was heavily damaged in a tropical storm and I couldn’t in good conscience leave while it was in that state.

In September, I decided I was going to make this post in October. Instead, Renée and I slouched toward getting back together, so the biggest news of that month instead was that I was in the same room as President Barack Obama. In November, things were official between us and I restarted my job hunt.

Suffered a swift defeat
I’ll endure countless repeats
The gift of memory’s an awful curse
With age it just gets much worse
I won’t mind

And then it was December.

To the beat of DCFC song that appears in two versions on not Codes and Keys, corporate restructured our newsroom. My job no longer existed. I had thought I had dodged those woes in journalism. The job in Jacksonville still was waiting for me, but it felt like everything fell apart. The six hours between Renée and me ballooned to nine. I had to rush to find somewhere to live. The year didn’t turn out the way I expected in January.

But, if it had turned out in some what that I expected then, this post wouldn’t exist.

I revisited Codes and Keys because I learned last week that, during some restructuring, one of my favorite editors (in a weird way) lost his job in a way similar to me. The suits walked in and his position simply ceased to exist. It’s not even a good comparison; his unceremonious drumming out was after years of good journalism that made my not quite six years in 2011 look like a joke.

But, despite the countless cuts in journalism over the years, this dismissal was the closest to home. In a slight variation in what happened to me after Dec. 7, 2011, that editor’s dismissal would have led to me getting an promotion. Officially, it would have been an interim proposal, but it wouldn’t have felt good.

Yes, this album is three years old, but it’s my current jam.

It makes me wonder if last week would have made Flume or AlunaGeorge stick with me in a weird way like Codes and Keys.

I didn’t dislike Codes and Keys because of how it sounded. I disliked it because I dealt with so much uncertainty in 2011 and, as it was one of the few new albums I bought that year, it was the soundtrack for much of that year. (This was the era when Death Cab was the soundtrack of my life in general.)

I felt chills as Home is a Fire played a few minutes ago. It’s a little funny at this point because I concocted a Doors Unlocked and Open remix in my head back in August when that song got stuck in my head for some reason. But hearing that whole album brought me back to 2011.

The first half of the following year was tumultuous, but 2011 was a prelude. And now I’m seeing that although there were a lot of things that sucked at the time, a lot of good things happened and a lot of good things got set into motion. (I’m still not reopening posts from before Jan. 1, 2013.)

I hope my former boss eventually can look back and make that same conclusion.

I’m renewed, oh, how I feel alive
And through autumn’s advancing, we’ll stay young, go dancing

i went to norfolk, virginia, and all i got was this lousy cold, part ii

Beena Raghavendran, of ProPublica, and your humble narrator.
(Photo courtesy Kristen Finn)

I was sick when that photo was taken. Really, really sick. I had an awkward pause when I was making a profound statement because I felt like I as about to propel my right lung into the audience. When it was over, I returned home, got on the couch and, other than walking Missy, did not leave the house for about four days.

But overall, I think the talk went well.

I missed attending the funeral of Renée’s grandfather, though.

If I attended, I would have been in close quarters with her and her grieving family, spreading whatever pestilence that was. I definitely did not want to get Renée sick because she was starting in a new position at her job on that Monday.

But back to the panel talk. It was the first time I presented on a stage in years. I wasn’t nervous at all because I had to do some public speaking in high school, I often had to do a reading at church and we’ve been doing a weekly radio segment for nearly a year.

I still have absolutely no desire to go into broadcast journalism, although my mom wishes I would.

We lost a panelist, which is why I attended. I didn’t want it to get canceled. Also, it was fun getting to share a stage with national name in journalism. And show off my corduroy blazer with elbow patches.

The theme of the talk was how new journalism models can help in equity conversations. Equity is a major them in the area lately, and my newsroom is a new journalism model. One of the ways that we can take a fresh look at things is because we’re not beholden to corporate overlords counting beans and aren’t weighed down by legacies of being on the wrong side of history, as a lot of (Southern) newspapers were wont to do.

Beyond the radio program, it was one of my first public outings as editor, and as I begin moving away from writing a lot, I’m going to have many more.

Hopefully, they will happen when I don’t feel like I’ve been run over by a train and can’t hear out of one ear.

Thanks a lot, 757.

i went to norfolk, virginia, and all i got was this lousy cold, part i

It’s fitting that I’m finally writing about this thing in April because I just successfully went an entire week without the lingering effects of the cold in the title, so I’ve gone from cautiously saying I’m better to actually believing it.

Doing these two entries also means that I’m getting closer to writing about the week of May 19, which, unless something fantastic happens before Sunday would get me caught up in time for the anniversary post. That means I have three and up to five to do over the next three days. It all depends on if I did something noteworthy on April 19th and 26th. I can’t remember, but Facebook remembers.

Anyway, I was sick from April 6 to May 17. Well, I was only truly sick for about a week. My problem is that I’ve gotten an ear infection in my left ear with every cold since I’ve turned 21. Each one last for an uncomfortably long time that makes me wonder if I’ve permanently gone partially deaf.

This sickness coincided with entirely too many things. Renée’s grandfather died a few days before, I won Virginia Press Association awards and I was going to be on a panel a few days after the awards.

I got sick on the second day of the awards, which were held in the Hilton in downtown Norfolk, which was I think the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I usually stay in middle-level or boutique hotels. I also discovered that extended-stay hotels often offer sumptuous accommodations at a lower price point.

I could feel it happening. My throat started feeling a little scratchy during the early session I attended, and I was in denial until after the awards ceremony, which coincided with the University of Virginia going to the championship game. They stopped the awards ceremony so we could watch the end of the game against Auburn.

When we got back from celebrating. I couldn’t stop sneezing. In the morning, I felt awful. I worried about giving my talk and going to a funeral in New York.

But I one my first and second first-place awards of my journalism career. And our organization won three best in show awards, the first time a newsroom in which I was the editor has come home with those. At that moment, despite feeling like utter crap for the 160-odd miles back to Charlottesville, that was all that mattered.

That was all that mattered.

foia

Just let your soul glo …

I sat in on a Freedom of Information Act primer for members of boards and commission. It’s a very lengthy piece of legislation, but if you’re really curious, read it and weep. (Also, there is a citizens’ guide to the state’s FOIA law.) Here is my (very brief) summary of what you need to know:

  • If you are paid with tax dollars and can’t serve citizens without transparency, you’re not serving citizens.
  • Usually, just because a meeting can be closed to the public, it doesn’t have to be.
  • You can disclose what was said in a closed meeting. If there is an objection, tell those who object to consider Portsmouth. When in doubt, contact the city or county or school board attorney.
  • FOIA matters because, in part of public perception, trust and accountability.
  • If you contact a public official in written form, what you sent becomes a part of the public record.
  • You don’t have to be a journalist to use FOIA.

If you think the people who get paid with our tax dollars aren’t operating in the sunlight, contact the Virginia Coalition for Open Government or the
Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

Thirteen years

Now I want to hear more 1980s songs with the original vocals over updated arrangements.

We have reached the point that my first day working in Petersburg seems like a long time ago. I visited the newsroom about a year ago, but looking at it from the outside on Sunday and pointing out the conference room, the sports department, the publisher’s office, the window behind my desk felt like it was the first time in ages. It might have been that the city has finally reached a point in its slow revitalization that things were markedly different in some places. It might have been that I’ve officially been away from the Tri-Cities for more years than I’ve been there.

After stopping at that newsroom, I rode to Hopewell by way of my old house in the far western end of that city. I honestly haven’t been past that house in nearly a decade. Although I was there 1½ years, once the longest time I was at one address that wasn’t my mom’s house, I don’t have a great attachment to that building. I’d forgotten the name of the street that led to mine. I (correctly) guessed that it was the right turn. In all honesty, I all but stopped living there long before I moved out. And I had moved out before I started working in Hopewell.

And then I got to the corpse of the Hopewell News.

Anyone got $595,000 I can have?
I inadvertently uploaded an greyscale version. I feel that it works in this situation.

It still makes me sad to see 516 E. Randolph Road boarded up. But we had a good run. We kicked ass when I was editor there. As I’ve said repeatedly, I wish I could do it again knowing what I do now, but I don’t regret a single thing we did there.

And most of the newsroom staff when it closed now works at papers with the same coverage area that operate out of my old Petersburg newsroom. If things went a different way, I would have left that newsroom just to wind up in it again.

Hopewell has changed for the better, too. That made me happier than Petersburg’s upswing because, although our coverage was a little aggressive and probably more critical at times than it should have been, I was rooting for that little industrial city the whole time I was there. And beyond.

On the way back to Charlottesville, we rode through Richmond to view the skyline. It’s no New York, but it’s a close as one can get in Virginia. Renée misses Richmond a bit, but I honestly don’t miss the Tri-Cities or Richmond. And I hate that. I’m sure we’ll wind up in a city again — it’ll be a while because I genuinely like the direction my current job is going — but I’m sure it won’t be Richmond. We’ve grown apart.

I just looked back at some of my previous March 13 entries in the hopes there was something profound worth revisiting. No, unfortunately.

Well, last year was the first time that it felt like Petersburg felt like forever ago. Those memories of the year I was living in an apartment in Walnut Hill and also the memories of zooming up River Road for nearly two years to my house in Hopewell are beginning to fade. I briefly got lost in Chesterfield County while taking back roads to Petersburg I used to take often. I had forgotten about a faster route to City Point from the Hopewell News.

But a few names and events from 2006 to 2008, my make-or-break years as a journalist, still stick out. A lot of them were good ones. I hope they stick around for a while longer.

Of course they will. They’re people and places that touched me so deeply, I’ll never forget them. I’ll carry the Cockade City and the Wonder City with me wherever I go.

And I’m glad that I’m able to.