LOCAL PRESS UNDER PRESSURE: THE VIEW FROM CHARLOTTESVILLE
This article originally ran in the Guardian, and was a collection of the local coverage following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.
A week-long sampling of the output of the Daily Progress newspaper in the Virginia city hit by racist protests reveals the enduring value of local journalism.
When an internationally newsworthy incident happens, as it did recently in Charlottesville, the Big Media descend, write and move on swiftly. But the local journalists, who were serving that community before the incident, remain and carry on reporting.
Using Charlottesville as an Anyplace, it is an opportunity to highlight an under-appreciated service at this time of challenges to journalism’s legitimacy and its economic underpinnings.
For a week, I regularly visited the website of the Daily Progress, Charlottesville’s local paper. What might it add to an understanding of the tragedy of 11-15 August, when a racist crowd gathered in Charlottesville, was opposed by counter-protesters, killed one, and prompted the extraordinary spectacle of the US president equating opponents of neo-Nazis with neo-Nazis?
What follows is part update, part glimpse of unresolved societal tensions, and part tribute to those who put together the Daily Progress in a pressured period. Like local news services in many parts of the world, their efforts demonstrate in a practical, relatable way the importance of journalism to community, civil society and functioning democracy.
Scrolling down from the Daily Progress masthead’s old-fashioned typeface, beneath a carousel of ads reproduced just as they appear in the printed paper, you learn in “about us” that the paper was established 1892, was 78 years in one family, and is now owned by a subsidiary of the Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway. The website design is tidy and staid, the tone of the small headlines low-key.
These fragments start from 16 August (the day after Donald Trump’s fiery news conference) when the paper reported the memorial service for Heather Heyer, the counter-protester killed the previous weekend when a car was driven at speed into a crowd.
• Headline: “NC [North Carolina] man in Confederate uniform with rifle in Emancipation Park met by counter-protesters”.
• Headline: “Man beaten at protest says police were indifferent to attack”. The black man was beaten by white men under media gaze in a garage next to the police station. More than a week later, the Virginia governor said he too wanted to see arrests and prosecutions.
• Report: University of Virginia library employee (and activist) Tyler Magill is in a fair condition after a delayed response to his clash with white supremacists: “doctors found his carotid artery was partially dissected, which caused a clot that resulted in a stroke. It is believed the stroke is the result of blunt force trauma to the neck.” The online appeal to defray his medical bills is called “Tyler’s Stroke of Genius Recovery”.
• Various community healing events include “Clear eyes and full hearts: debriefing and moving forward” and a peace rally where organisers prefer “no protest signs referring to various hate groups, or the president”.
• After the maker of Merrywhite Bread posted disparaging comments about the death of Heyer, calls poured in to a market “demanding tha