BACK BAY — Earlier this year, I published an editorial about the terrible situation at The Virginian-Pilot, which is being moved to the Peninsula, and I urged folks with cash laying around to buy our local daily back from Tribune. The Chicago chain is ditching South Hampton Roads while trotting out an editor to say readers won’t see much difference.
My logic, such as it is: The Pilot is still the best newsroom around with the most resources pointed at Virginia Beach. So, if that’s worth saving, we need local ownership so we preserve local journalism here. What can I say? Like your punk rock cousin trying to open a club in an abandoned 7-Eleven, I dig telling other people where to put their money.
Since I originally wrote this column in March, the pandemic has, with mighty good reason, shifted our attention toward the plight of a number of businesses, but it has hit journalism organizations hard, too. The public health crisis shows our need for local reporting more clearly. There is a difference between the work of local reporters and some of the talking head nonsense we see on cable TV.
However, I may be alone in my hope for returned local control of The Pilot. A Change.org petition to keep The Pilot on the Southside has been online for a while now. Fewer than 100 people signed it.
So. Maybe we should consider The Pilot isn’t worth saving. And then it just dies.
What does journalism look like on the Southside or in Virginia Beach? Is it just TV news, leading with what bleeds and hitting big stories well while missing deeper stuff print journos catch? An online nonprofit? Or underfunded small pubs like The Independent News scraping up what we can?
I don’t recommend starting up in print. On account I have always wanted to be a unicorn, I’m looking forward to running the last newspaper in Hampton Roads – if only on the southeasternmost bit of the region. But, as I’ve written before, this paper can’t scale up to replace The Pilot’s Virginia Beach coverage. That would cost something called real money. I deal mostly in theoretical money.
I caught a radio interview that talked about The Pilot as it used to be but sure ain’t now. It was swell, but I’m frustrated. When do we stop talking about how newspapers used to be and address setting the stage for the local journalism of tomorrow? Why aren’t we asking the right questions on the airwaves, over coffee, at universities, at City Hall?
Now we need to ask a useful question. If we don’t care to save The Pilot, what do we do next to cover local public-interest news?
I want journalists covering the City Council, economic development and elections. I want reporters who know what they’re doing covering schools, courts and cops. And if one reporter packs it in, maybe we have a news organization actually sound enough to hire somebody else to take their place.
I want us to find a way to continue to have actual journalism here. I want us to look at the ocean we must cross to pay for future newsgathering rather than glancing backwards into the empty wading pool of nostalgia.
I’ve had real skin in this game for five years. I’ve sold enough ads to pay for reporting, photography, election guides, etc. Nobody is more surprised by that than me. Look, if I can do that, we can do more.
The old Pilot is gone like Johnny Cash. The present Pilot may not have many songs left. What next? It’s a useful question, the one worth answering right now.
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