The Citizen at 13

Thirteen years ago tomorrow, the Henrico Citizen published its first print edition. It was nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and in retrospect, probably the absolute worst time to start a business of any type.

Of course, I hadn’t planned to launch the Citizen nine days after unimaginable national tragedy. The truth is, I never expected to own a newspaper, or any other business for that matter – much less to start one from scratch.

But the simultaneous beauty and uncertainty of life – for better or worse – is that there are some things you simply don't plan for.

I started the Citizen because Henrico County was what I and my small staff knew, and I felt that in some way, we could help make a great place just a bit better by providing a common thread that all citizens of Henrico could share.

I believe there is great value in finding a sense of place. As a child growing up in a Northern Virginia town of about 20,000, nothing cemented my own sense of place more than the three – three! – weekly newspapers that served my town.

They weren’t glamorous, nor particularly well-written all the time, but they had pictures of places I knew, articles about events I’d attended and advertisements from places at which we shopped.

I anxiously awaited each new edition during baseball season, because I knew my own name often would appear in the brief recaps of our Optimist Club youth league games that the papers published. Certainly, there must have been thousands of other people waiting with bated breath to learn how the 10-year-old Phillies had fared the previous week. . .

Ok, maybe not.

But I always felt as if that were the case. Such is the magic of the printed word.

Somewhere, I still have a notebook full of those newspaper clippings, and they mean just as much to me now as they did then. That place was my hometown, those papers told our stories and made us feel as if we belonged someplace.

There was then, and I hope still is today, something magical about a newspaper. Years ago I wrote that despite the encroaching dominance of the internet, newspapers would retain some of their unique mystique because, after all, it’s hard to cut out a piece of the internet and file it in a scrapbook for posterity.

I’d like to think that there are hundreds or maybe even thousands of Henrico Citizen clippings tucked into scrapbooks somewhere in the world right now. That would make me feel that this endeavor has been a meaningful one to the community we serve.

At the same time, much has changed in 13 years. We no longer live in a print world. Today, only about half of the Citizen’s total content ever appears in print; the rest (including this weekly column) appears only online.

The way that we as readers want our news and digest our news has changed rapidly. If we’re not getting tweets, email updates or Facebook status updates about something within 10 minutes of its occurrence, we assume it either didn’t happen or wasn’t important. This presents challenges for a small operation like ours, because while we seek to inform readers around the clock, we lack the manpower to cover everything, while still retaining the unique local characteristics that we consider critical to our mission.

Is it more important for us to blend into the never-ending “breaking” news cycle of news that isn’t really breaking and doesn’t really impact most readers? Or should we instead delve deeper into local trends and issues to explain why they matter and how they may affect you?

This is a critical issue facing most media outlets today. At our core, many of us would like to select the latter, but online click rates and internet chatter show that readers are more interested in the former. We’ve become a quick-fix society.

As the Citizen enters its teenage years, our aim remains consistent: To deliver as much relevant news about Henrico County as we can through as many platforms as we are able (print, online, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), as often as possible – while ensuring that in so doing, we maintain the type of original, local content that should always be the hallmark of a true community paper.

I’ve always felt that what makes a community special is the people who care about it and who invest themselves in it. The more you know about a place, the more likely you are to care about it. The more you care, the more likely you are to become active.

We write about the people, places, events and issues that matter to Henrico – in short, the things that make this place unique.

I hope that we’ve helped our readers – whether they’ve been regular or infrequent, Facebook or face-to-face with a printed page, longtime residents or brand new ones – feel stronger connections with this place during our first 13 years.

After all, this is our place. We can just sense it.

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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The University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts will present Doug Varone and Dancers at 7:30 p.m. in Alice Jepson Theatre. Doug Varone and Dancers are celebrating more than 30 years of creating impassioned choreography. The evening’s performance includes The Bench Quartet, performed by the University of Richmond’s Dancers. Doug Varone and Dancers will perform four sections from the new work In the Shelter of the Fold (Sextet, Duet, Trio, Solo), as well as “Nocturnes” and “Lux.” Stay after for a post-show discussion with Doug Varone and the performers. Tickets are $40. For details, call 289-8980 or visit http://www.modlin.richmond.edu. Full text

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