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.

awards

Over the past few days, my newspaper won the top prizes in its category for the Virginia Press Association awards and my wedding photographer won a Pulitzer. I want to make a joke about the candid photo of me on my main page now is priceless, but Ryan took a photo of a tragic event.

It makes being enthused about this award awkward.

I’m sure you all know what happened in Charlottesville over the summer. I’m also sure you know that Charlottesville is no more racist than your average American city, so don’t be afraid to come here. In my younger, single days, I would have found a belly of the beast to live in out of spite, but I have a wife and want to have children and have no problem with doing it here. Other than wanting to land in a larger metropolitan area a few fives of years from now because my wife is from New York and I know there are aspects of life in an Alpha City she misses with every fiber of her being.

But we were struck with tragedy. Unlike other municipalities that responded to America’s most recent public racial strife with the swift removal of Confederate symbols, Charlottesville is hampered by state law. The City Council made decisions in part to challenge that law, which made it the target of provocateurs. That situation escalated quickly, and we’re going to have to deal with the fallout for years to come, unfortunately. The only comment I will make is that our state government needs to get out of policing the minutiae of local government, especially since that largely doesn’t apply to fiscal issues. Being a Dillon Rule state keeps Richmond from bailing out cities like Petersburg, but Richmond can force cities and counties to keep war memorials they no longer want. I say we should let them have more home rule, and if it leads to statues going up or coming down with each successive city council or board of supervisors, so be it.

But I am wavering into being subjective.

And I digress.

I can’t imagine how it felt to capture something that marked the end of someone’s life, that marked the end of the illusion that America has moved beyond the mess that caused my mom to graduate from a segregated high school and made my grandmother fear traveling on unlit roads at night and enter a local grocery store through the back door even into the 1990s. If I were him, and it wasn’t my last day in journalism, I don’t know if I could have come back for another day of journalism.

And I’ve seen some things.

It’s part of the reason I know I can’t hack it as a beat reporter. I can handle that stuff, but my life cannot be just the accounting of human suffering. Those people need a voice, but I can do that but so many times. In my early reporting days, I tried to write fully about murder victims. It got overwhelming.

I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

But we have to do this.

If we don’t show humans at their worst, who will?

Who will tell these stories in an attempt to shame us all into being better to each other?

Who will pop the bubbles of the insulated?

Who will show those in similar situations the cold comfort of not being alone?

This is why I do this. This is why so many of us do this until we can’t anymore.

Collectively, as journalists, we can’t give up. And please don’t give up on us. Our humanity depends on it.

desperation

A few days ago, I saw this Washington Post analysis of homelessness and hunger among college students.

I scoffed. This is nothing new.

I knew at least one homeless college student. There were days when I was absolutely famished and didn’t want to ask my family for help because I was supposed to be an adult and doing this on my own, briefly had three jobs and, in theory I was guaranteed — up until my senior year, when my dorm was demolished there wasn’t enough housing and I could have been homeless if not for my fraternity brothers and I renting our unofficial official house —  three meals a day from the dining halls.

This didn’t end after graduation. After a few months of only eating beans, getting the occasional Wendy’s sandwich, gorging myself on whatever baked goods showed up in the newsroom and willing my credit card bills (and gas prices) low enough for some meat, I asked my mom for food.

From 2006 to 2009, my mom bought me groceries. Occasionally, she still does. I also try to raid her freezer whenever I visit. It’s more of tradition at this point. Or she sees a killer deal through the connections she still has from the restaurant industry.

Typically, whatever she bought me was all the food I was going to get for about a month. On paper, I made enough to live. I got paid between $22,000 and $24,000 a year at my first paper. I don’t exactly remember, but I know I made less than $12 an hour and absolutely did not reach $25,000. My rent was about $600. I had utility bills and a car payment I wasn’t expecting to have. I had college-related debt to pay back. From the start, I would get my check stub and realize that the entire thing was spoken for. And then some. I had a bank at the time that gave everyone up to $500 to use, minus overdraft fees, after hitting zero. You had 30 days to get your account back into the black. I mastered having about $5 in on the 29th day and then jumping back down to -$480.

I was constantly tired. Journalism is not an 80-hour job. We pretend it is. I’ve never worked at a paper where people put down ever hour they worked. I don’t see how some people have a second job beyond reporting. I walked into every day of my first six years or so of journalism not knowing when I’d get home at the end of the day. Even when I had food to cook, I’ve come home too tired to cook it. I went a day or two without eating because I didn’t have time to eat or had no time to prepare anything. When I lived alone in Petersburg, I’ve passed out because of that on more than one occasion.

On one particular occasion in early 2007, it took me entirely too long to have time to cook the chicken I put in the fridge to thaw.

It definitely had started to spoil.

I was in no position to waste food.

Yes. That happened.

Despite heavily seasoning it and baking it until it nearly was burnt, I almost couldn’t bear to eat it. Luckily, I had some liquor, so I figured it would help kill the germs or help induce vomiting later.

I kept it down. I don’t know how, but I kept it down.

This still feels embarrassing, although a dozen years have passed. It’s because I went too long being too proud to ask for help. And then, when I asked for help, I was too ashamed to ask for more help.

You’re better off looking back at the time when you had to eat at a soup kitchen despite being in your chosen career than looking back at the time you cooked and ate rotten meat.

dozen

It’s gotten the point that it doesn’t feel like yesterday.

I was in Petersburg with Simone Tiffany Crystal — my 1989 Toyota Camry — James Cecil Wheatley — my two-year-old plant — my futon from middle school, which served as a couch, LSW2 — my laptop from Christmas 2001 — and the bed I bought when I moved into the Delta Nu Chapter house in 2004.

I had no idea what to expect. At the time, I knew I was covering Dinwiddie County, Virginia State University and Richard Bland College. I had done no research into Dinwiddie. I blindly walked into a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting. A kid horrifically burned himself when he inadvertently poured gasoline on a fire. I lived in a city that, while I was there, was the “most dangerous” city in the state per capita, but never made the official list because its population was under 100,000.

I loved every second of it.

Until I increasingly disagreed with the new managing editor and became the managing editor of the paper down the road.

I had no idea what to expect. I had to hire a new sports editor, the publisher fired a reporter, I had to fire a reporter and we fought tooth and nail to restore the reputation of a publication that often was seen as a laughingstock.

I loved every second of it.

Until I felt like it was time for me to move on and a storm nearly destroyed the building and I stayed on because I didn’t want to leave them in the middle of a disaster and then headed to a copy editing position along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

I had no idea what to expect. I was hours away from everyone I knew and loved, made a nearly blind decision as far as housing, tried to balance a long-distance relationship and saw the writing on the wall when the company was bought out.

I did not enjoy that experience overall.

I then briefly returned to the paper I left before winding up here.

I won’t belabor modern history.

But this in less than two weeks, I’m moving away from the Richmond area, most likely for good.

That means that I’m also leaving where I began my journalism career, the Tri-Cities, most likely for good. I’m running out of reasons to go down there. Here’s what I said about that yesterday:

This pains me infinitely more than leaving Richmond. I learned how much I didn’t know during my time south of the James, and I had my biggest triumphs and failures there.

I love the Tri-Cities because it is a beautiful mess and because there are so many people working hard to remove “mess” from that phrase. It does not deserve the bad rep it sometimes gets. It’s a victim of so many things, including the state’s city-county divide, its own leaders at times and the changing face of commerce and industry in America.

Sure, I may rag on it and the contretemps of its governments, but you don’t get to unless you’ve lived there and worked there and rooted for it on its worst days. As recently as last month, I’ve driven to downtown Hopewell and made some of the rounds I made when I was an editor there.

I’ve half-seriously said I want to retire on some acres in Dinwiddie. Although I want my wife to go home to New York at some point, I hope at least a vacation place in that area is in the cards.

Here’s to a dozen years in journalism. And here’s to years to come.

1926-2018

The beacon of truth that shines upon the just and the unjust grew a little dimmer Jan. 18. The Hopewell News of Hopewell, Va., has closed its doors.

I was once the editor there.

I was 25 years old the first time I stepped into that building, and I had no idea what I was doing. But, damn it, I had ambition.

But I had a great mentor in the publisher at the time, Jim Smith. And I had an invaluable staff that I eventually had to pick myself.

I went with my gut a lot. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and ask for advice. Sure, we made mistakes along the way, but when we were on it, we were on it. We went from the town joke to garnering enough interest to print a third day. We broke news sometimes days before our daily and television competitors.

We kept long hours.

We went as far as Richmond and Roanoke to bring forth stories of local interest. We almost went as far as New Jersey, and I’ll never let Katy forget that she kept me from breaking news on my vacation.

We grew and learned and loved and fought and headed off to greener pastures. Those of us who stayed in journalism became better journalist because of it. We were a training ground. I firmly believe every journalist needs a stint in a small town.

We kept tradition going at a young paper in a young city in an old state. We penned the first drafts of history. We held elected officials accountable. We launched social media. We ventured into radio. We took home awards. We kept going because people said that we couldn’t or shouldn’t.

We provided a voice to the voiceless. We were that cliché of people who buy a failing business or abandoned building and then get a ragtag group of people armed with broom and paintbrushes and make it work.

We forged a kinship in that converted car dealership that went beyond being coworkers.

After we moved on, we constantly checked in, rooting for the underdog we once were a part of.

And now it’s gone. Abruptly. All of that grit and determination snuffed out.

The Hopewell News ranked as one of my greatest accomplishments. It still does. Nothing — not even the deletion of the online archives — can take away that great push we made during my tenure 2008 to 2012. It made us into who we are. For some of us, it made us into damn good newspapermen and women.

To name a few, Katy is now an editor herself at a major metro. Along the way, her tenacity brought forth sweeping change in state and local government. Jonathan quickly grew into his role of being the voice of local sports in the Tri-Cities. He just launched a new venture into Central Virginia sports.

And here a sit like a proud parent whenever I hear of the accomplishments of those journalists who were under my care those years. Even if they left the industry, like any rational person would do, knowing that I played a role in their journeys warms my heart.

I will forever miss The Hopewell Publishing Co., and I hope someone assumes the mantle for the betterment of the Wonder City. We need small-town papers more than we do national outlets. What goes on in your city hall affects your daily life more than anything that ever happens in Washington. The internet alone can’t fill that gap between your front door and the statehouse. A viral post from down the street without full context is just that: a virus.

“You can’t get your news from Facebook. People need to know that,” said the final editor, Adrienne Wallace, in an article in the first newspaper I ever worked, The Progress-Index.

Those words are very, very true.

24) ‘the sirens of jupiter’ by the olympians

If you haven’t noticed, I like almost every song that has trumpets and/or trombones in it.

And, here we are: The theme of right now. I know how to make an entrance.

Well, this one is kinda an exit, too. This most likely is the last entry for a bit.

I am content, though. While I’m back in Charlottesville, there is something I want to do, hence the vagueness and planned hiatus. This cunning plan has nothing to do with leaving that newsroom or the company, though. As you have seen over the course of 24 songs, I took a lot to get here. Twice.

Hopefully, this project quickly come to fruition and I’ll back sooner rather than later. And then this old new beginning will continue.