5/01/2012

Selfmaking narrative

In response to a reporter's question about my work at Charlottesville Tomorrow. 

As I approach the end of my second decade as a journalist, I'm blessed to be Charlottesville Tomorrow’s senior reporter. For my entire career, I have wanted to be part of an enterprise that is both traditional and pioneering. Our country needs better journalism that is objective, intelligent, and truly non-partisan. What we do, primarily through covering local government meetings, provides a model for how the future of news could look.

I graduated from Virginia Tech and spent many years as a freelancer in public radio.  I was drawn to journalism because I wanted to explain to people how things work. This stems from my status as a first generation American who wants to better understand this place I was born but am somewhat still assimilating with.

When I was working for one of the college newspapers, I jumped at the assignments that allowed me to learn more about planning issues. I loved learning about new roads, new buildings, and new developments. Those sorts of stories affect everyone on some level, but many journalists don’t think they’re important.

After college, I briefly covered national politics as an intern at New Hampshire Public Radio. The big topic was the 1996 Republican Presidential primary.  We covered the issues more than most, but so much of our coverage was about the horse race. Did it really matter to most people where the candidates stood on national issues? Did it really affect their actual lives? Was the narrative I was writing actually connected to anything? I much preferred writing about New Hampshire, but there was little space on the airwaves.

I took a series of other jobs for a while, but returned to radio after living away from the U.S. for a year. I came back to Virginia wanting to tell stories about this place. I began working for a public radio station again, but there was no full-time work.


However, Charlottesville has been an excellent market in which to experiment. Before I was hired at Charlottesville Tomorrow in 2007, I created a website called the Charlottesville Podcasting Network to help local organizations tell their own stories. This also provided a platform to showcase my longform radio work.

I first met Brian Wheeler, CT's executive director, around that same time. I had introduced the idea of podcasting to Charlottesville, and he had the idea of using podcasts somehow to provide the public with access to Albemarle County government.

In 2007, he was able to find a full-time position and I began covering local government. At first, I knew very little about what was going on. While I had lived in Charlottesville for 5 years, I’d done very little beat news-reporting. To be a successful freelancer, you must be general. Now I had the chance to become an expert in something that our donors felt was worthy of reporting. They wanted to know what Charlottesville would look like in the future.

And the way to know that is to make sure someone is watching the process by which decisions get made. We’re charged with helping the public better understand what is going on. We have positioned ourselves as a reputable, trustworthy source of information that can explain to readers exactly what’s going on.  

We’ve accomplished that goal by being there, reporting, and developing keen ears for what’s relevant and newsworthy. We’re a constant presence. For me, this harkens back to the days of what journalism may have been like in the past. Our unique partnership with the Daily Progress means that our stories are routinely on the front-page. We help lead the discussion on local government and we do so through old-fashioned reporting with a commitment to accuracy.

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