As the C-VILLE Design Annual returns (p. 16) to look at a rising generation of architects, we ask, What’s Next? I like the question; being C-VILLE’s editor for the past nine years, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering it myself. Putting together a good read each week—and landing on the thing that needs to be covered next—requires the talents of many. Last week I thanked dozens of writers and contributors who have helped create C-VILLE for the past 20-dozen issues while I’ve been in charge.
But in the end, a newspaper is only as good as its readers—and you are one demanding and intelligent bunch. That comes as no surprise, for Charlottesville is a fertile place for the worldly, the passionate and the quick-witted. Whenever our internal discussions turn to what the reader thinks or wants (or even, who is the reader?), it’s reader with a capital R—a tough customer, as my much-missed Nana used to say. Thanks for insisting through your feedback that we aim for a high standard of reporting, curiosity, humor and design. It’s kept the job lively and made the paper better.
Fiercely intelligent as it can be, Charlottesville is also a place rich in contradictions. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the news stories where people can, for instance, credit themselves as good community stewards and raise a holy fuss about a fitness facility going up in a local park while remaining largely silent on an epidemic drop-out rate among the city’s poorest high school students. People proudly think and act regionally when it comes to food production, but the city and county, whose boundaries most of us probably can’t name, continue to feud like Hatfields and McCoys. And then there’s the question of Thomas Jefferson. Were it not for his influence, Charlottesville would be a shadow of itself. Yet, so many people here force a kind of irony about him. Or they’re quick to denounce him for his own contradictions—slavery and Sally Hemings, among them. I’ve grown to appreciate Jefferson even more in the time I’ve lived here; I like a complicated man. And from the seat I occupied at C-VILLE, I saw a lot of TJ in Charlottesville’s own hypocrisies and vice versa. In the very city that erects a monument to free expression, a newspaper editor can field personal hate mail, harsh phone calls, and yes, a death threat or two for publishing an unpopular opinion.
Not that I would have traded this job for any other in town. The writers alone have been a cast of characters that no playwright could imagine (buy me a beer—on the Upper West Side—and I’ll tell you the story of the eco terrorist). I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to shepherd new products into this market, too, from our home and garden monthly (ABODE) to a bridal magazine (UNIONS) and a women’s lifestyle and fitness quarterly (C). It’s been personally and professionally rewarding to conceive and launch these C-VILLE-branded publications and absolutely terrific to watch them find a marketplace. Ultimately, the support of C-VILLE and everything else we do relies on buy-in, literally, from local businesses, without which we’re not worth the paper we’re printed on. C-VILLE was on the shop local kick long before it became a bumper sticker, and we still are. I hope you are, too.
It is not immodest of me to note that C-VILLE is a fine looking publication. And so are all the supplements we make. I can say that because another person is the wise hand behind that outstanding design. He is Bill LeSueur, longtime co-conspirator and unparalleled art director. Bill, I love your work—and I’m crazy about you. You’ve made me a better editor than I ever imagined I could be with your exacting sensibility, your tireless work ethic and your beautiful eye. When he or she gets here, my successor will be a lucky soul indeed to be able to make a mark on C-VILLE (and Charlottesville) with your support.
So, returning to that question… What’s next? I got off the train 17 years ago with a double stroller and deep dismay at the dusty surroundings. I leave alone via I-95 with my two men set up in far-flung places. I arrived highly skeptical of the South. I depart with a love of the Blue Ridge and collard greens. After early years spent at magazines and another alternative weekly, I had room to advance in my career when I got to Charlottesville. I exit at the top of the local journalism game with a micro awareness of a town that is so richly nuanced it would take more than one career to master it. I’m headed to the Columbia Journalism Review, where leaders in this field are still fighting the good fight for journalism that is accountable and accurate. I’m charged with raising the funds to keep it going—a worthy cause in a time when means of distribution, such as social network sites, are mistaken for real journalism and when many reporters (never mind, readers) are themselves unsure of the difference. After nearly a generation in this town, I know a Jeffersonian principle when I hear one and CJR’s motto, Strong Press, Strong Democracy, is just that. And so it will be true that you can take the woman out of Charlottesville but you can’t take Charlottesville out of the woman. I will carry 17 years of life here and nine years of serving its discerning readership into every conversation and pitch I make. Good for me. I love New York, you know it’s true, and I love Charlottesville, too. Peace out.