The DTM takes its name from a local short-hand used for Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, a 9-block stretch of Main Street that was converted into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s. As a local reporter for many years, I noticed that much of what happens of cultural, political and social importance in the community often involves this urban experiment, what the late Bill Lucy, a UVA architecture professor of urban and environmental planning, referred to as a “sacred” place in our community where people “commune, share ideas, and eat together.” Indeed, in addition to some of our best restaurants, music venues, cafes and a such, the DTM is also home to our local government, our court systems, our cultural centers, our major festivals; and perhaps more significantly, to the troubling aspects of our shared history and the promises for the future.
I believe local news should be independent and aggressively inquisitive, provide meaningful and accurate historical context, and be unafraid of taking risks in the pursuit of the truth. Unfortunately, news organizations backed by corporations and publishers concerned with making a profit [because it is increasingly difficult to do so], or by influential donors who expect a certain scope of and style of coverage, aren’t willing to give their reporters and editors that kind of freedom. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what a veteran local journalist had to say about this situation in The Atlantic earlier this year:
From: “My Newspaper Died 10 Years Ago. I’m Worried the Worst Is Yet to Come.”
“….I still worry that journalists are not being radical enough about how to create vibrant local news organizations, without which the health of our communities will be at risk. One new study found that a municipality’s borrowing costs increase when local reporting dies. Without journalists, the risk of corruption, of mismanagement, grows. Another study found that communities with declining coverage have lower levels of voter turnout. People need independent, reliable, fact-based reporting to help them make good decisions. Democracy can’t function without it. I won’t quote Thomas Jefferson. But if you wonder what he would have said about the matter, look it up.”
Or this from New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet:
“The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news. … I don’t know what the answer is. Their economic model is gone. I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by a local billionaire. …
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I think that everybody who cares about news — myself included, and all of you — should take this on as an issue. Because we’re going to wake up one day and there are going to be entire states with no journalism or with little tiny pockets of journalism. … I’m not worried about Los Angeles and New York. I don’t know what the model is for covering the school boards in Newark, New Jersey. That makes me nervous.”
If that makes you nervous too, consider supporting The DTM. Ideally, with enough support, I’d like to greatly expand our coverage, feature the work of other talented local journalists, and create a truly independent local news source.
David McNair, founding editor.
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was a staff writer for The Hook, which won the state’s top journalism prize from the Virginia Press Association three times, and wrote about world affairs for Takepart.com.