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.

homeward bound

People Just Do Nothing secretly is favorite show.

I totally thought I recounted my trip to Maryland two weeks ago. To make a long story short, on Friday I got stuck in traffic, got caught in a small snowstorm and I had a hard time concentrating on doing work in a Starbucks when everything went down in Richmond the second I crossed the Potomac River. The following day, I went to Fairfax, where I hung out with three fraternity brothers. That Sunday, I got from there to Albemarle County in about 1:40, so there’s really no excuse for me not to visit people in NOVA more often or for them to come visit me. (And I know I’m really bad at going to Richmond, but I feel that it’s too close for me to crash overnight but too far for me to run down for a day and come back in the middle of the night.)

Now, on to this past week, which took some unexpected turns toward the end.

In honor of Black History Month, I named her Ida Bunny Wells.

On Wednesday, I pulled into the parking garage and spotted this little creature in a space near where I was going to park. I have a soft spot for stuffed animals — the one I received the day I was born is safely hidden in my mother’s house — so I decided to save it from being squished by a minivan.

I took it with me to work, snapped this photo of it and tweeted out that some kid’s lost bunny was safe and sound in my newsroom.

It went mini-viral.

Two days later, after prominent locals, regular folk and people from far-flung areas liked or retweeted it, a local TV station that had a slot open for a feel-good Friday story slid into my DMs to ask if I’d be willing to go on the air about the lost bunny.

I wanted to get this rabbit home, and my ulterior motive for this whole thing was to put the community in community journalism, so I agreed.

Aside: I’m sure we’re all will forget what DM stood for at some point in the distant future, and I can’t wait to look back at this fondly like posts from more than a decade ago that mentioned AIM.

They didn’t mention my job description, so I cropped out the channel. Because I’m petty.

So, a week that began with people being interviewed for a opening in my newsroom and also for summer internships concluded with me being an Area Man with a small-town story on the Six O’Clock news.

It made up for the cancellation of a civic engagement conference on Saturday due to a lack of interest. A part of it was to feature me as a part of a panel. I was looking forward to that. (It’s partially because I wanted to see if I could speak to a large group again without going into far too much detail about a double homicide. I did that once to a group of Virginia State University students about a decade ago. Needless to say, the offer to build a partnership there was never heard from again.

Anyway, although it partially was intended to be a way to get my publication noticed beyond my live tweets of municipal meetings, this segment showed that one of the local news editors really wants to get a kid reunited with a stuffed animal. That’s all that really matters. If a kid’s buddy goes missing, any adult worth a damn should pull out all the stops get it back to the kid. If we can’t at least do that as a community, we aren’t a community.

august

So, I didn’t write about what happened in August because too much happened in August, and I didn’t have time to catch my breath. I’m not even going to properly caption all the photos.

So, I left my old job and started my new one. I had to hit the ground running, and it’s been incredibly hectic, but I finally feel like my pay is equivalent to the amount of work I’m putting in, so it’s been great. I think things will work out very well.

Anyway, my first week culminated on the anniversary of Aug. 12 in Charlottesville.

Nothing truly violent happened this time around, but now there is an argument about how the police response was disproportionate  to compensate for the approach last year.

All I will say is that, from these pictures, I obviously was out there on the weekend because 1) it’s kinda my job and 2) I refuse to be afraid.

Anyway, while I was still trying to figure out things like where the bathrooms are, another week of work went down into the books, we set up some things, like having radio spots and then I took a trip with by brother Butler to the Danville area. We went to an event at Virginia International Raceway, but we got distracted by the AAF Tank Museum.

Butler works near a Lamborghini office, so we got VIP access. It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After this, I felt like I was kinda getting the swing of things at work. We had a lot of breaking news, though (as a matter of fact, I need to do real work either later today or all day tomorrow — and I definitely have to do something tonight), but it’s been great to mostly have my weekends back again and not have the pressures of daily deadlines constantly hanging over my head. I mean, I have deadlines, but now the idea is to get the best and most accurate story out instead of the first. This has taken a great load of stress off me over the weekends and allows me to do things like go to my mom’s house, fire up the grill and play with my dog in her backyard.

And now, here we are: Labor Day weekend. August feels like it went by in the blink of an eye. I’m excited about getting more settled in my role at my new journalism job, having a better work-life balance and feeling more like a member of the community.

Friday night, I was on the Downtown Mall. There has been so much strife and unrest in our country over the past few years, but seeing it full of life and hosting a rally for the University of Virginia the night before its drubbing of the University of Richmond reminded me of what could be. Of what we hope will be.

moving in

I would show pictures of my new desk, but there’s a banner emblazoned with our name on one side of my desk and the sign on the glass behind my desk casts a shadow on my desk. Even without the photos, you’ll be able to figure out where I work within five seconds of searching on Google, but I want you to earn it.

And, obviously, my long-running blog (14 years!) is not affiliated with my job.

Anyway, I have nearly two full weeks of work left at my old newsroom. I went to my new place yesterday, where I got some questions answered and had some discussion of short- and long-range plans.

Additionally, I got my parking pass and my key.

I packed up most of my desk on Saturday because I didn’t want to do it with a lot of people about and I’d failed to realize it was my penultimate Saturday shift. For the longest time, I only had one or two personal effects on my desk. As I got older, I realized that it was kinda weird that I didn’t have pictures or other pieces of flair on my desk. Especially since there was a stretch when the only trinket on my desk was a mug with a photo of a former mayor of Hopewell on it.

She has a rose in her teeth.

Long story.

Today, I put my few trinkets on my new desk. Only my coffee mug and cell charger are at my old desk. When I finished, I sat alone there for a few minutes and let it all sink in.

It’s almost time for a new adventure.

let’s try a new change

For the first time since 2008 (and that technically doesn’t count), I have taking a new position in the same general area as the place I’m leaving. My commute will go to about one song to between one and three.

I’m working for another media outlet. It’s not a direct competitor, so it’s not a move based in Daniel Plainviewesque “I told you what I was going to do” like when I jumped from Petersburg to Hopewell.

I’ve spent six years with this company, nearly all of it with this paper. That is half of my career. I had fully intended to go the distance, but there is some uncertainty coming up and this opportunity arose in the midst of it. I’ve framed it as I would feel like an idiot if I didn’t at least try for the position and also if I managed to get it and turn it down. It was time to make another leap of faith.

My job is a lot like others I’ve had before — I think I only have to tweak one sentence in the “About Me” tab here. I’m excited about helping guide this publication into its next phase. I’m also excited this being a change not made of an overwhelming urge to leave where I am. It’s like the first time I left that newsroom. Although a lot of reporters (and editors) have come and gone there, it’s always felt like a family. It’s just time for me to leave home on my own terms.

My new place currently has a relationship with the old one, so it’s still not like I’m truly gone. What soon will be my former newsroom always will have a special place in my heart, much like The Hopewell News, may she rest in peace.

My biggest problem is that I really, really, really want to go by E. Devon Robinson on the things I write (this is a thing I did from middle school to 2008), but I don’t want anyone calling me Devon. No one’s ever called me by my middle name.

July 27, 2007

I’ve covered two things that involved brandished handguns. One of them was in my general direction. There have been other implied threats and tense moments, but the moment below stands out the most.

Hours after it happened, we made light of it in that way that some people fall into to cope. After the shooting today at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, I thought of it again. Although nothing bad happened to us, it’s not one of those instances where you look back at it and laugh. One of our reporters recently got a message from someone who had been holding a grudge for years. Occasionally, we journalists wonder if that irate caller actually will do something. But, despite what gets hurled at us, we journalists can’t let it stop us.

As Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook tweeted in the wake of the violence, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” 

Here is most of a post I made here 11 years ago when I worked in Petersburg. I made a few minor changes for clarification and truncated it because it referenced another post that you can’t read.

Because of the way my newspaper building is set up, people who want to physically submit letters to the editor or notices for lifestyles or anything directly newsroom-related have to come up winding creaky set of wooden stairs to get to the newsroom.

Today, a woman came up to submit a letter to the editor and request a story. She was in our police blotter a while ago after being arrested on charges of prostitution, solicitation and trespassing. She wanted to clear her name or something — we reporters weren’t really paying attention because our online editor talked to her first and then directed her to our managing editor, who was about to leave for the day.

Since the editor was ready to go home, the situation was a bit out of our control and it happened in my county, he was both trying to get rid of her shift her over to me. I wanted none of it, so I dialed a state police officer who was about to retire. I got his voice mail and started to leave a message.

Suddenly, she just started screaming for my editor to run her letter and write a story because she was not a prostitute. She asked a man in a car for $5, she said. He asked her what she’d do for it, she said. She was not a prostitute, she reiterated. Then she yelled, “I’m gonna go postal! I’ll make the massacre at Virginia Tech look like a kindergarten!” and stormed down the stairs.

Our editor followed her for a bit, which in retrospect was foolish, and when he returned told us that she almost knocked a customer down on her way out. He then called police.

As you may recall, this was about three months after the Tech shooting. She had a no-trespass order served against her. I don’t think I ever checked to see the outcome of her prostitution-related charges. We began locking the steel door between the newsroom and the rest of the building after that.

25th

I’m counting Iowa.

A week ago, I went to Omaha and back. I was out of my house for about 40 hours. I didn’t take a lot of pictures. We didn’t do enough sightseeing to do it.

I did the math and realized Nebraska would be my 24th state. Unless you’re traveling to North Omaha, it’s impossible to get to the rest of the city without going to a portion of Iowa that wound up on the western side of the Missouri River when it changed course. I’ve reached the halfway point of visiting all 50 states. I was on the ground in a vehicle in Iowa, so I’m including it. I made that ruling because I count it when I enter cities and counties in Virginia.

If I didn’t, I truly never went to Falls Church until earlier this year, which would have made it an incredibly small outlier in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years or so. And my first official trip to the city of Suffolk would have been my sophomore year in college, instead all of the times my family rolled through it from the time I was an infant.

Anyway, along with going to an awards dinner, we did a little touring of the city. We saw some of the Old Market and ate at Upstream Brewing Co. I had a burger made of Omaha steak. It wasn’t the best restaurant burger I’ve ever had, but it is No. 2, knocking down a place in Charlottesville. Out of all the gourmet burgers thrown at me, Smitty’s still is first (Theresa and I once had the menu memorized).

After that, we wandered a bit and wound up at the Imaginarium. It was a labyrinth of things from my childhood and other interesting items both old and new.

“This is the kind of place where, if you go down the wrong aisle, you end up in an ’80s fantasy adventure or an ’80s slasher film,” I said.

I was tempted multiple times to buy something, but then I thought about having to get things through the airport.

The awards were bittersweet, because it’s great that we’ve gotten recognized for our work, but what was covered was terrible. That’s the problem with a lot of journalism awards — we put a lot of human suffering on display, hopefully for the betterment of society or a collective vow to never do that again, so it sometimes doesn’t feel quite right to be feted for hard work we did to ensure a heinous event goes down in history. I put off writing this because I thought I would be able to say something more profound, but I also think I’ve reached my limit of justifying being proud of covering a murder trial or bringing down a corrupt official or writing 5,000 words on someone who is destitute and on drugs.

Anyway, we then got caught in a torrential downpour on our way to having nightcaps at the bar of Sullivan’s Steakhouse. It was there that it was cemented that #rvatank was national and global news.  (I’d like to point out that, if you scroll all the way down, aaaaaallll the way down, I am the origin of the hashtag.)

The next day, we were going to walk across a pedestrian bridge to Iowa, but we were dragging a bit and just toured the main Omaha paper. After that, we rode through Iowa again and headed back to Virginia via a three-hour layover in Atlanta. We had a layover in Atlanta going. It marked my fifth and sixth times in that city without seeing anything more than the airport and what’s visible from Interstate 85.

I say I’ve been there.