clearly, i’m a masochist

My favorite piece of 1990s video game trivia.

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It’s not my first rodeo.

I’ve done an amazing job since 2012 of not timing my moves to getting a new job. Technically, this goes back to 2008, if you ignore the disaster that was my six months in North Carolina.

In November 2008, my housing situation went south, despite it being a three-bedroom house for less than $800 a month because everything south of Richmond is INSANELY cheap. I stopped actively sleeping in the house at least a month prior — I either slept on Pat Kane and Court’s couch in Colonial Heights or at my girlfriend’s house in Richmond. I lived with a coworker, and not seeing him every waking moment of my life was going to be the only way our friendship was going to persevere. I had resolved to move out, and the landlord gave us an opportunity.

My relationship ended around that time, so I couldn’t crash in Richmond — additionally, she had roommates, so if it hadn’t, I couldn’t just live there. I occasionally stayed in Colonial Heights still, but Court started dating her now-husband, so the only way that all would have worked out would have been if it were a sitcom. I mean, it kinda was, since a joke turned into some people assuming Pat and I were a couple and also that one of my birthdays was exceptionally debaucherous. Since I had nowhere to live then, and was in the process of trying to find a new job, I did the millennial thing and moved back home.

Seventy-three miles away from the newsroom.

Oh, and I was a reporter with a beat that was 780 square miles at the time.

I landed a new job in December 2008 in Hopewell, roughly 70 miles away from Hampton. When I lived in the Tri-Cities, I noticed that the time it took me to get from my house to the Petersburg newsroom was close to the time it took to get from Hopewell to Richmond. Since I was young, got a substantial bump in pay and liked going to bars, I moved to Richmond. I also did it because I wanted to be invested in the community but have no bias toward it through living there. But my bank, dentist, barber, you name it were there.

When I finally headed to Charlottesville, I had a very, very hard time finding a place to rent in my price range. It’s expensive there, and since whether Renée was coming with me was up in the air, my options were even more limited.

So I drove in from Richmond for a month.

Once we got there in October 2012, Renée had a hard time finding something in her field. After I told her to look in Richmond. I decided to commute and conceded that I’d eventually have to leave journalism because I wasn’t going to commute 76-odd forever. I loved my job and didn’t want to leave it, but she wasn’t happy there.

I did that drive for five months and didn’t have to leave the industry, or the company. I was genuinely sad my last day, though. The people in the Charlottesville newsroom were like family to me. I really felt like I learned a lot there. Although I rarely visited, I never stopped thinking about being there.

And now, for the second time since I left, the opportunity to come back arose. I turned it down the first time because Renée liked her new job, we had just gotten situated in our current place after being run out of our place in Manchester when the new management made it clear they didn’t want to inherit the old company’s tenants and, again, I didn’t want to do the drive potentially for years.

This time around is different. We had been vaguely talking about moving west after our lease is up. Missy has issues with living here and Renée has to contend with a bad traffic situation each morning.

I explained the rest of this in a previous post.

But if you’re just tuning in, this is why, despite hating it, I’m not sweating the extreme commute too much.

But come on, March.

nonconsecutive

I’m going back to Charlottesville.

Well, I’m not going to live in Charlottesville proper until I 1) sell my mother’s house or 2) can get a place with at least central air in Charlottesville or urban ring Albemarle County for $1,100 or less. I’m a cheapskate when it comes to rent because of being able to rent an entire three-bedroom house in Hopewell for less than $800 a month. The current plan of action involves moving to my first home in a place not incorporated as a city. I kinda want to spend my entire life being the resident of a city, so if anyone knows of a house within Charlottesville city limits that is available after the Ides of March that accepts dogs, has central air and a fenced-in yard, we have ourselves a deal.

That’s right, I’m doing the Long Commute for the fourth time in my life. I hate the Long Commute. Only one of them has been my fault. Because we took out an 18-month lease to get a Great Deal here in Shockoe Bottom, we’ll have our third between Richmond and Charlottesville.

I plan on trading cars with my mom at least when it snows and when I move because she has an SUV. I haven’t told her yet because that was the point of calling her at 7 p.m. Friday. I blanked on why I called her because I was fixated on walking to get drunken noodle because I couldn’t be bothered to load the dishwasher and make dinner today.

Elliott, doesn’t your wife own an SUV?

Well, yes, but taking my mom’s car is a long, storied tradition. And my needing to get to work in inclement weather doesn’t trump her need to get to work in inclement weather. Anyway, my mom expressed reservations about owning an SUV when I went home last weekend. I’m anti-SUV, but I’ll gladly take one with literally 100,000 fewer miles and four fewer years than my car. It also has Bluetooth, which is great, because the aux jack in Nicole is broken, I’ve stopped burning CDs and I only buy physical CDs when the band means an awful lot to me, like The National or Blonde Redhead or The Mars Volta (when it was a band) or Death Cab for Cutie.* (I could throw in Jamiroquai, but I wanted Automation immediately, so I don’t have a physical copy and I regret it every time I want to hear We Can Do It and Nicole only plays music from one channel of the aux jack.)

If we do a permanent swap, I’d have a car essentially identical to my wife’s, though. Whatever. Our relationship began with nearly identical AIM away messages. (RIP, AOL Instant Messenger.)

This started off as a joke, but I’m totally going to try to swap vehicles. She never named her SUV. I’ll call him Scott.

But I digress.

I’m going back, to quote myself 12 hours ago, because I missed being closer to the action — the planning, working directly with reporters, being more involved in the online presence, really feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of the night.

I went to Richmond because my wife was having trouble finding a job in her field in Charlottesville. I took the only open job in Richmond, being a reporter, because I figured having an editor who lived an hour away didn’t do Charlottesville any favors. As you know, I moved to the copy desk because, although I like writing, I’m not cut out for the daily grind anymore. And what I thought was the finest piece of writing I’ve done in my entire career didn’t get considered for a Virginia Press Association award. I mean, a post in this blog that I converted into a photo page won an award but I get nothing from the aftermath of a beleaguered town getting hit by a tornado? A convicted murderer was moved by my words and donated to the tornado relief fund from prison. FROM PRISON. I have my half-crazy dog because that storm wiped her home off the face of the earth, but some hokey column I wrote less than two years out of college placed?

But I’m over it.

Additionally, back in 2006, my dream was to become a copy editor there. Because I’m weird. My best explanation for leaving was that although I longed to be on that copy desk, I longed to be on that copy desk more than a decade ago. That means I expected to be doing something else by 2017. And after putting out a non-daily on a wing and a prayer for three years, hiring someone who has taken home awards because she covers the news better than me, having to deal twice with having to recommend firing someone and effectively being a consultant, the past year and some change has been … dull. Really dull.

I didn’t want to leave Charlottesville when I left. I know things have changed, but I have no desire to leave unless corporate wants me elsewhere. I’m excited about diving back in. (I’m more excited about living in the metro area in the spring because this will be my second-longest stretch of extreme commuting.)

Journalism is not dead. Good things can and will happen in Charlottesville, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it as long as I can.

Additionally, I feel that I need to be back there. The Charlottesville everyone saw on TV or on foot when they were in the streets in August is not my Charlottesville. My Charlottesville has amazing scenery, people who stop for people at crosswalks and people with friendly words for their neighbors as they live nestled between the Southwest and Blue Ridge mountains. Don’t let this summer turn you off from that beautiful city.

___

* I have a friend who introduces me as her “friend who loves Arcade Fire AND The Mars Volta.” After Everything Now, I don’t know if the former still is true.

farewell

On Friday, we had a sendoff for an editor who had been around since before I was born. Nearly everyone in the newsroom was there.

It wound up being the last time I would see some of them.

While I was on my way back from visiting my old newsroom in Charlottesville, the company announced layoffs. I was spared, but people I knew and liked are gone. The paper is shrinking in size, too. I think I’ll wind up with more work because I’m one of a handful of people trained to do what some of the departed editors did.

I feel a little twinge of guilt because it makes me think the whole training me to replace them thing was the plan all along.

We knew this was coming, though. We had been spared drastic cuts for about five years but we haven’t been able to fix the woes plaguing the journalism industry. Major retailers pulling ads and getting close to or going out of business didn’t help.

(I’m simplifying things here.)

And there’s still the subscription problem. People stopped paying for news when it was on the internet for free. We had to start cutting veteran reporters because they cost more. Our quality dropped as we lost institutional memory and checks and balances. Sometimes, it was enough to turn people off to us. Yet they turned to the dubious origins of some of the news online. Never mind it telling them exactly what they want to hear. Never mind it sometimes not going in depth. Never mind it sometimes being patently false. Never mind it not being something that would tell them things like “that highway will be closed tomorrow.”

We’ve gotten so used to it being free, people are still resisting paying. People cry bias and fake news when the truth doesn’t fit their worldview. Novice reporters get things wrong when overworked editors don’t have time to sit with them or truly fact check and there aren’t veteran reporters around to regale them of how the situation all started 20 years before.

It’s a sad situation, and it’s been a sad situation for the entire duration of my career.

I don’t know what the solution is. Misinformation seems to be winning the battle. I probably could start a blog saying Obama is from Neptune and he’s still hell-bent on destroying America and make enough advertising dollars to live comfortably.

It shouldn’t be this way.

11 years

On March 13, 2006, I walked out of my barely unpacked Petersburg apartment and went to my first day as a reporter in a daily newspaper newsroom. I didn’t intend to stay long — I wanted to be a copy editor, and when I saw that a position opened in Richmond, I applied for it.

I regretted it, because I hadn’t even been in Petersburg for a month, so I turned down going through the next stage of the application progress.

It took me 10 years of trying to reverse that and get to Richmond. Six months later, I finally wound up on that copy desk.

It was a long, winding, crazy road. I have countless stories. I’ve done so many things. I’ve donated so many hours both on and off the clock. It’s hard to picture life without journalism. The majority of this time has been in Central Virginia.* I can’t imagine life without that, too.

There was this one time in Charlottesville when I was up past 2 a.m. I was updating the paper’s website because there was an armed standoff and Katy was there, feeding me information. It didn’t matter to either of us that no one was on the site at the time or that it was most likely that it would go on well into the morning. We did it out of duty to the profession. News was happening. It was our duty to disseminate it.

I’ve said it once before: This isn’t a career — it’s a lifestyle.

It’s been a great 11 years.

___
*Charlottesville is near the geographic center of Virginia, so all but six months of my career has been in Central Virginia. Since it’s such a nebulous term, my newspaper doesn’t capitalize the “C.” Charlottesville did, and I’m sticking to it.

10 years suspended

On Friday, I got a letter from a prisoner. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one, because I haven’t written any crime articles in my short stint of being a reporter and I haven’t been a listed-in-the-paper editor in a while.

I was excited by it. Typically, they go on and on about various miscarriages of justice that happened either before or after their convictions. Sometimes, they’re right. Sometimes, prison is exactly where they need to be.

I was fully expecting a few pages from a sex offender swearing he had no idea how those images got on his computer and that the real perverts are the judges and the members of the Bilderberg Group who conspired to keep him in prison to stop him from revealing the truth.

Instead, I got a letter written on a computer. He formatted the return address in a way that made it look like he had a corner office instead of a tiny cell. I figured this was going to be a doozy and excitedly announced that I had a letter.

It was a doozy, all right. It was about the stories I wrote to catch up with the communities in our coverage area that were struck by tornadoes on my first week in Richmond.

The article “captured my attention because of the compelling subject and later, because of your compassionate voice,” the prisoner wrote.

“Because of your article, two of us at [the prison] … sent our contributions to help in the recovery,” he wrote.

The clerk of the county court, who was handling the recovery fund, sent letters of recognition and appreciation to the inmates. He sent me a copy.

“Such praise for a more-or-less natural response to a tragedy was both unexpected and highly motivating,” he wrote. “And it all comes back to your article.”

He went on to say that he aspires to become a better writer and hopes to at least be published in our paper one day.

“In the meantime,” he wrote. “several of us at [the prison] are continuing to look for ways to help those caught up in misfortune beyond their control.”

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

I shared the letter with an editor and our criminal justice reporter, hoping that a story about convicted felons scraping what little cash they get in prison to aid in storm recovery would be worthwhile.

But first, I needed know what he did.

In the early 2000s, he beat a man to death with a hammer and robbed him. He has an active sentence of 74 years in prison for first-degree murder and other charges. I vaguely remember the case.

Being a murderer doesn’t mean all you are is a monster. Being in prison doesn’t mean you ceased to be a human being. Knowing that you will spend your last days within those walls doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to lives outside those walls.

I plan on writing him back.

back on the desk

Today was my first day of training on the copy desk. Yep, for those of you following at home, I’m back on the editing side of things.

Sorta.

I have seven things to write until I’m no longer a reporter. That number could go up if anything jumps up on my beat in the next week. I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen.

It happened already. On Monday, that number was six. I lost a story and gained two more.

For those of you who have been here since 2004, you know all I wanted to be is a copy editor. I didn’t need to be editor of The Hopewell News. I didn’t need to be second-and-a-half in charge in Charlottesville. I was perfectly content in North Carolina, except for the whole being hours from my friends and family and getting out of there before my job potentially got outsourced bit.

I never, ever intended to be a reporter, except for when I voluntarily became one in February.

I like to write, but I my heart isn’t in writing articles. My heart is in this blog, that I started neglecting again because I couldn’t talk about the potential changes and feared I’d inadvertently let it slip.

My heart also is in Brown River Blues. I’ve been chugging away at this revision and expansion. It’s going to be well over 100,000 words when I finish. It’s a little amazing to me that it started with a bare bones plot in 25 installments in this very blog. It’s amazing that it’s taken this long to get this close to declaring it complete. By the end of the year, I hope to do another open call for anyone who wants to read and critique it. I at least want Mini-Mullin (I’ll never stop calling him that), Mandy and Falyn to read it, since they have seen versions that were missing critical plot points.

Even editors need editors.

It feels good to say I’m an editor.

Tonight was great. As I told my boss’s boss earlier today, it was anything I haven’t done before. There wasn’t a twinge of trepidation or self-doubt. It was like slipping on a pair of handcrafted white leather shoes you bought for your wedding that have molded to your feet and have become your most comfortable pair.

I wore those today.

‘we want the text’

I’m fairly certain I’ve told this story before. I’m too lazy to look for it. I can’t remember the year, so there’s a chance I told this tale within 24 hours of it happening.

Despite not knowing the year, I remember what happened clearly one weekend evening at CNU.

For a while, my college newspaper used a bartering system for some of our advertisers. One of them was a pizza place that’s now defunct. I’ll leave it nameless, though. I was new to the paper’s executive board, and it was a rite of passage for the new editor to pick up the pizzas and subs we got in exchange for running their ads.

It was a bum deal.

The subs were greasy, and came with a special sauce, which appeared to be more grease. The pizza was gross. Just. Plain. Gross.

But it was free, and we were literally starving college students. If you’ve been in college, you feel for the homeless man you see eating something out of the garbage, because there was a point partway through junior year when you had $2.48 to your name and came close to rationalizing it like George Costanza.

Anyway, I was told to go down there, tell him I was from the paper, give him the proof copies he requested and he would hand me the food. Simple.

So I get sent down to the pizza joint, which of course, wasn’t owned by Italians. The owner had an extremely thick accent that sounded more Eastern Bloc than anything else.

So I walked in, the guy greeted me and I did my part.

The dude then started reading the paper. I didn’t know what to do for a moment. Finally, he broke the silence.

“We want the text,” he said.

“What‽” I said, adding You want the sex? in my head after that incredibly apt interrobang.

“The text! You wrote the text from the Aztec. We want the text!”

“Oh, you want a review.” I replied after a sigh of relief, going on to say I’d mention it to our food critic.

He then went back to reading the paper.

“Um. …”

Finally, someone from the kitchen came to the front.

“Oh, do you want your food?”

“YES.”

When I returned to the newsroom, I learned that everyone else knew everything that happened would happen. I also learned that they had been putting off having the critic do the restaurant until the end of the academic year because they knew it would be absolutely atrocious.

It was. Oh, it was.

We had a “Finger-Lickin’ Good Scale” from 1 to 5.

“It might as well say, ‘On the Finger-Licking Good Scale, we give it one finger — the middle one,” and editor said.

Obviously, that edition was the last one that carried the pizza ad.

you were a valued member of our staff

I miss these guys

Best of luck

This is my best wishes card from Charlottesville. I got it in February.

A few hours ago, I read all of notes for the very first time.

I managed to get through all of my job changes up to this point without getting an office going away card. I always thought they were stupid. Coworkers who know next to nothing about your or possibly loathe you get forced to pretend that they’ll miss you for about 10 seconds when the card comes around.

Although some of that is there, this one felt different. I guess it was because, in glancing at it, some were more than one-liners and some of them were more than one-liners after those writers told me that would be equally as long if written on the card.

Although I fish for compliments sometimes (all the time), I don’t when it comes to my job. I didn’t write that article so that someone would later tell me it was great. I didn’t sit by a reporter’s desk and rant about a story because I wanted to hear about how good of an editor I was. It was my job. It needed to get done, it’s important, and damn it, I’m not going to half-ass it because I’d rather be sleeping or binge watching MacGyver.

That’s why I couldn’t read the card just then. That was why I thought up a speech to say on my last day but couldn’t find the words when the cake was out and my desk was clear and I was minutes away from putting that newsroom in my rear view mirror for a while. I simply was overwhelmed.

I actually miss them. I really do. But it was time to go, and not just because I was commuting from Richmond.

I always tell reporters to get all they need to get out of the newsroom and get the hell out of there. Because our industry is evolving rapidly to avoid complete collapse, you can’t sit and stagnate until it’s time to cash out your 401(k). My trajectory didn’t involve staying in Charlottesville forever. I knew that when I got there. But I gained a lot more than I expected in those more than three years.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Thank you for having me.

year 10

A decade ago, today was my first day at work at my first journalism job. It also was my first real job after college (although, technically, I was still a student; long story).

I was fresh off a trip to Florida that served as my final spring break. I moved to Petersburg only two days before. I was excited and wondering where the road would take me in the decade to come.

I had no idea what I was doing.

It’s been a crazy ride. I thought I’d be in Petersburg a couple years and then I’d be off to a major metro. Then my industry collapsed.

I learned a lot there. I grew a deep love for my original beat. I wrote some things I thought at the time were great. I also wrote some things that were absolutely horrible. Then I got too big for my britches and headed a few miles down the road to work for the rival paper.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow, I was put in charge of that small newsroom. Somehow, I made key hires. Somehow, it turned into a newspaper I was proud of.

I also learned my limitations and knew someone else needed to build on the foundation I placed to carry it to the next level. I decided I wanted to rise no higher than the position of copy editor, but two storm events delayed that transition by about four months. It led to an awkward, bittersweet transition.

Being a copy editor worked for only six months. I briefly headed back to that rival of my first job then had the departure that should have been.

Then I landed in Charlottesville.

That was a fascinating time. I still had no idea what I was doing, but I finally began to figure it out. The real-world experience there ranks second after the basics I learned in college.

And now I’m here. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve learned how to find out what to do. I’m enjoying being a reporter again, but I kinda miss being in the editor’s chair. I have a feeling I’ll need to make that decision sooner rather than later.

I know what I’m doing.

Here’s to another 10 years. At least.

“i bring the disasters.”

It’s my first week as a reporter. On Tuesday, I went to my first municipal meeting since December 2011. On Wednesday, I wrote my first article since December 2011, if you don’t count briefs I’ve (re)written or the couple times I was a bad editor and changed an article to the point that it only had a reporter’s byline because he or she gathered the material.

That said, I hate my first article.

Absolutely hate it.

I think it’s in a prominent spot. I really, really hope I’m wrong. It’s garbage, and no one should read it and I knew I was going to be hard on myself.

It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, because I came to the realization that the way I wanted it would have been more than the 25 inches it ended up being.

I also couldn’t take care with it the way I wanted because it took a while to get in contact with some people.

Additionally, I had to hide in a basement for about half an hour.

A series of strong storms blew into the area at a time entirely too early for those type of storms to come through. Additionally, they featured damaging tornadoes, which are possible in Virginia but somewhat rare.

I had just gotten off the phone with a source, who cut our talk short because of deteriorating weather conditions, when all of our phones lit up about a tornado warning. No one panicked, but there was a very stern order to go to the basement until the warning was over.

When we returned to the newsroom, someone made a comment about me being greeted by a crazy week. I could only comment on it not being too crazy, and rattled off some of the things that have happened within my first few days of work.

“This is normal,” I said in conclusion. “I bring the disasters.”