I graduated from UVA on May 21, 2006. The next day, I was on the phone with a New York musician for a story in Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star, the daily paper where, during high school, I wrote about Minor Threat and tried to mirror the values I learned from punk rock in my prose.
My editors gave me good assignments and better criticism, and one pushed me to C-VILLE Weekly, where I reviewed a James Brown concert and then accepted a part-time internship.
For months, I worked nights and weekends at a Fredericksburg Starbucks, and woke at 6am to drive to Charlottesville and work at C-VILLE for gas money. I helped my former classmate, staff reporter Meg McEvoy, compile evidence for her story on abuses at the Whisper Ridge Behavioral Health facility.
I also helped Johnson Elementary School lunch ladies dispense nutrition wisdom, and joined former news editor Will Goldsmith on a seven-hour beer odysey for his “Hop Springs Eternal” cover story. After the latter, I crashed in Charlottesville at 3am, was back in Fredericksburg by 7am for my morning coffee shift, and then pretended (loudly) to throw up in the bathroom so I could go home and recharge.
Working for a newspaper in the city where I attended college was—with all gratitude and a “Wahoowa” to dear old UVA—a better education than I’d ever had. I’ve described it to friends as an all-access pass, an opportunity to ask any question I could wish to put to someone. At first, amidst the exhaustion and fake vomit, it didn’t feel that way.
In fact, the week that C-VILLE hired me, my car died on Route 20, and I spent the night in a Madison hotel, where I opened a AAA membership and then arranged for a truck to tow me back to Fredericksburg.
But the job was—and will remain, for the next person—one that prizes curiosity and tirelessness, and rewards both with a stronger sense of community. I’m not leaving C-VILLE because I’ve lost those attributes. Instead, I’m following them to New York and the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’ll serve as communications manager and assist with, among other items, that publication’s new election coverage effort, the Swing States Project. CJR’s newest editorial effort will “watchdog local press coverage of political rhetoric and money in politics”—meaning, I’ll continue to work with the reporters and publications that have unparalleled access to the isolated figures and events that shape larger discourse.
C-VILLE Weekly is such a publication. As I write this, former UVA lacrosse player George Huguely, charged with the murder of his former girlfriend and fellow UVA student Yeardley Love, heads to trial. I spent hours outside the apartment where Love’s body was found, called lawyers and talked with students, asked bartenders and lacrosse players for comment. One person lost a job as a consequence of speaking with me, which I offer not as a badge of honor but as indication that, in the face of traumatic events, some neighbors won’t open their doors.
On my first day as news editor, a job I took after three years on the arts desk, Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington’s body was found on an Albemarle County farm, months after her disappearance from the area around the John Paul Jones Arena. Love’s death followed in May.
In July, Kevin Morrissey, managing editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, shot himself near the Coal Tower. I was threatened while reporting a story about a fatal shooting that occurred near the Mountain View Mobile Home Park, and was grateful that my current car worked well enough to get me home.
But in each of those instances—and for the hundreds of stories I wrote for C-VILLE—people talked. At their best, locals treated reporters like neighbors, and reporters treated locals similarly. That is to say, we learned from each other, and tried to reconcile competing pieces of information for the good of our community.
My last feature will run here in a few weeks. There’s a paragraph that I feel is applicable here, and so I’ll include it:
"The beauty of neighborhood is its emphases on mutual respect, accountability and assistance. Locally, our neighborhoods include pockets of economic desolation, inherited poverty, and carefully carved school districts. There are whole neighborhoods where struggle is a defining characteristic. Those neighborhoods rub shoulders with others defined by good schools, economic prosperity, and inherited fortune—however you interpret the word."
I spent more than five years at C-VILLE Weekly. During that time, I lived in a few different houses and apartments. At present, I live fewer than 300’ from the house I rented when I first moved back to Charlottesville, which seems to me as good a sign as any that I’ve made my rounds here.
Before every major transition at C-VILLE, my car died. My 1992 Saturn gave up the ghost on Route 20 in 2006, when I was first hired. In 2010, days after I accepted the news editor gig, my 1994 Isuzu Rodeo spit its transmission out near I-64. And, last month, after relatively few problems, I spent what savings I had on the repairs that, I hope, will get me safely to New York. I hope my new neighbors will be as generous as the ones I leave here. Thank you, Charlottesville, for letting me ask questions.