Reflections on 10 years in print

The Henrico Citizen turns 10 years old with this issue – a reality that amazes me for conflicting reasons.

Has it really been 10 years?

Has it only been 10 years?

Since Sept. 20, 2001, I’ve attended more than 100 Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and School Board meetings, taken photos at dozens of youth baseball and softball games, high school football games, community festivals and fundraisers. I’ve covered more than 50 high school graduations, interviewed hundreds of people and designed (and proofread) more than 4,800 pages. I’ve met with hundreds of business owners, advertising agents and public relations officials, sold and designed hundreds of advertisements, uploaded thousands of articles and photos to our website and delivered tens of thousands of copies of the paper to distribution points throughout Henrico County.

I’ve attended and covered events in all but two or three of the 60-plus public school buildings in Henrico, every recreation facility, public park, government building and several playgrounds. I’ve covered two hurricanes, a 100-year flood, two earthquakes, a sniper spree, a handful of parades and a half-dozen NASCAR races. I’ve attended dedication ceremonies for new roads, new schools, new shopping malls and new neighborhoods. I’ve met and written about hundreds of people who amazed me, inspired me and became my friends.

I’ve traveled to virtually every corner of the county, committed to memory the names and paths of hundreds of roads and five magisterial districts. I can associate nearly every portion of the county with a person, event or article.

My e-mail inbox contains exactly 75,102 messages, and those are just the ones I’ve saved since July 27, 2006. I’ve read each one at some point.

I’ve written more than 700 articles, taken more than 20,000 photos and written more than 9,000 headlines.

In the course of a decade, some moments stand out.

The sad ones do. When Tropical Storm Gaston dropped a foot of rain on Central Virginia in 2004, I raced out of our office to take photos of a daring rescue attempt by firefighters in front of our building. A quiet stream had turned into a raging river, threatening to wash away a minivan with a woman inside. I snapped a dozen or so shots, then ran back inside to continue working on deadline. I didn’t witness the heartbreaking outcome: the rescue was impossible, and the woman was swept to her death moments later. For years, I couldn’t bring myself to develop the film. I wrote a column about the experience.

The happy moments stand out, too. I covered the return of military members from Afghanistan to Richmond International Airport, where hugs and smiles seemed to be all that mattered. Earlier this year, I watched as a high school gymnasium erupted with genuine joy and excitement as a special needs student hit a game-winning buzzer-beating basket during the All-Star basketball league for students with physical and mental disabilities. I wrote about that, too.

There have been heated moments. Someone is always upset at the outcome of a school redistricting case. Someone almost always argues passionately against the next development or land rezoning case that threatens to disturb an existing neighborhood. I’ve witnessed it time after time, and I can relate to those who object: my childhood neighborhood in Northern Virginia – our quiet, tree-covered section of town with several dozen modest homes – no longer exists. It was bulldozed entirely years ago to make way for hundreds of apartments. But today, as a businessman seeking the next key opportunity for my own company, I don’t fault those developers for chasing their own goals.

There have been inspirational moments. Earlier this year, we published our first annual Top Teachers issue and told the stories of 20 Henrico educators who make a daily difference in the lives of dozens of students. The input we received from readers, who described in great detail the impact each teacher had on their children and grandchildren, was touching. So too were the reactions of the teachers upon learning they’d been named to our list.

There have been moments of pure wonderment. I stumbled onto a story years ago about the efforts of several African-American educators who helped fund the Henrico education of one young girl from Prince Edward County more than 50 years ago, when her school district closed rather than integrate. Their efforts – and the difference they made in one woman’s life – will inspire me forever.

Days before our first issue was to roll off the presses, two planes sliced through the World Trade Center, another dove into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, changing our nation forever. In the aftermath, I suddenly wondered whether anyone would care to read about a plans for a new road or details about a bond referendum. Would photos of a championship Little League team, coverage of local elections or features about community volunteers hold any value to readers?

I was 24 years old, had no formal business training and was about to start a free newspaper whose first issue had one advertiser. Was I crazy?

Perhaps.

But in retrospect, my fears were unjustified. I believe as strongly today as ever in the future of true community journalism. Ultimately, the things that matter most to most people are those they can see, touch, hear and feel. And those things happen right here – in their community.

Much has changed in 10 years. Nearly as many people now read this newspaper online, connect with us through Twitter and Facebook or read our e-mail newsletters as those who read us in print. A decade ago, the fax machine and scanner were critical components of our small newsroom. Today they are obsolete.

What all these numbers, recollections and thoughts amount to, I’m not exactly certain. But I’d like to believe that somewhere inside the web they’ve spun is part of the story of Henrico County during the past decade.

Those who read this are the reason we exist. You are the people who care about this county, who work and volunteer to make it a great place to live. You are the small business owners who risked all to pursue your dreams and provide for your families. You are the teachers who have invested hundreds of your own hours and dollars because you care what paths your students take in life. You are the police officers and firefighters who protect and serve your neighbors. You are the mothers, fathers and grandparents who take children to baseball practices, dance recitals and drama rehearsals and who cheer at high school football games and third-grade plays. You are the Boy Scout Troop leaders, the tutors and mentors.

You are the true Henrico citizens – and we are truly proud to have told your stories for the past 10 years. Today, we begin looking forward to the next 10.
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Community

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.

project:HOMES’ ‘Renew Crew’ helps Henrico citizen


The project:HOMES "Renew Crew" (above) recently assisted an elderly member of the Laurel Presbyterian Church in Henrico by clearing brush, trimming hedges and raking leaves in her yard.

The Renew Crew serves low-income, disabled and elderly homeowners in need of small-scale home repairs such as porch, railing and step repairs, exterior painting, clearing overgrown yards, tearing down outbuildings, wheelchair ramps and other critical repairs and accessibility modifications. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


The past couple of days haven’t felt like it, but it’s finally December and this weekend is packed with holiday events. Kicking the weekend off is Glorious Christmas Nights’ production of “Finding Christmas” at West End Assembly of God. Gayton Baptist Church’s annual Jazz Nativity starts tonight. Another annual favorite is tomorrow – the tree lighting at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. In search of Christmas concerts? The Virginians Barbershop Chorus will present its annual Christmas Show tomorrow at the Collegiate School and the Richmond Choral Society will perform Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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Calendar

The annual James River Parade of Lights, sponsored by the James River Advisory Council in cooperation with Henrico Recreation and Parks, will start at 4 p.m. Henrico County’s viewing celebration will take place at Osborne Boat Landing, located at 9530 Osborne Tnpk. Gather around the bonfire and enjoy holiday music and activities. A Toy Parade, sponsored by the Battlefield Ruritans, will precede the Parade of Lights at 3 p.m. Admission is free. For details, call 652-1434 or visit http://www.henrico.us/rec. Full text

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