Much has changed, much remains in newsrooms
6/2/2022, 6 p.m.
The news business is consumed by constant disruptors and interruptions.
So much so that non-breaking news often gets tossed aside.
I should know.
Twice in the past two weeks an announcement about me coming aboard as managing editor for the Richmond Free Press was kicked to the curb in favor of major, breaking news.
As it should be.
No one wants to read about journalists when mass shootings, gun violence and a deadly pandemic continue to wreak havoc locally and throughout the country. Add to that soaring gas prices, babies lacking basics, and a trip to the grocery store akin to a five-course dinner or luxury hotel stay.
When such tragedies occur and wallets are hijacked, journalists should be covering them rather than focusing on themselves. This week the news has been a little less jarring, providing time for me to reflect on my new role in a city that I moved to in 1981.
Back then, I accepted an offer to work at Richmond’s afternoon daily newspaper, intrigued that the City Council was predominantly Black, which indicated to me that the city was progressive. While that remains a matter of debate among many, I will say that having left Richmond in 2011 to teach Black college students in my hometown of Greensboro, N.C., I was elated to return here five years later. I missed my favorite haunts, my home in a quiet neighborhood, my fun-loving, quirky friends, my church, my sorority and my museums.
Upon returning, I continued to teach at various universities but experienced profound joy as a substitute teacher in Henrico County. I completed a book about Black women journalists. I also started a nonprofit media organization and spent several years as a freelance reporter and editor for publications that included the Richmond Free Press.
My first few days as the Free Press managing editor were chaotic to say the least. Having just returned from a restful vacation in Hilton Head, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. — you know, the city that Hyundai just chose over Virginia’s Pittsylvania County to spend $5.5 billion and hire more than 8,000 workers — I was tossed into a sea of local, state and national news that I’d not experienced since ...last February.
That was when, for two weeks, I served as the Free Press guest editor in the absence of the newspaper’s former managing editor. That also was when, during Black History Month, Virginia’s newly inaugurated governor caused a furor with his condemnation of critical race theory and had folks fired up about a “tip line” to snitch on classroom teachers who dared to teach the truth about American history and slavery. The furor almost made the Ralph Northam 2019 black face debacle appear quaint.
(Note to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin who made his fortune at one of the world’s most influential private equity firms: Don’t you think that time spent dissing teachers could have been better spent helping Pittsylvania County, decimated for more than a decade by furniture industry losses, secure that $5.5 billion Hyundai deal?)
Before my recent re-entry into the newsroom, it had been nearly 25 years since I was a full time newspaper employee. Although much has changed since then, many aspects of the industry remain. The decline of daily newspapers began with buyouts and mergers in the early 1990s, around the same time that the Richmond Free Press was born. The dissolution of newsrooms continues today in the form of tight budgets, lean staffs, 24/7 hour news cycles and decreased circulation.
Although the Free Press is a weekly newspaper, our mission is similar to that of daily print publications and online outlets. Still in the game, we are deadline driven, truth seekers and zealous about serving Richmond and surrounding communities. We are a Black-owned newspaper and revel in our reputation for providing relevant information for and about Richmond’s Black community. We also delight in knowing that our newspapers, more often than not, are consumed by many non-Black readers, too. Our staff is small, but mighty. A cadre of talented freelance reporters and photographers stand ready to support us when needed and we are proud of their presence.
I remain honored and humbled (and somewhat speechless) by an invitation from Jean P. Boone, Richmond Free Press president and publisher, to lead the Free Press. In accepting my new role, I am the second editor to do so since the death of Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond H. Boone. Never did I envision being in this position once occupied by a man whose backbone was made of steel, whose mind was sharper than any sword, and whose heart was good as gold.
Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Boone for allowing me — a woman who penned her first newspaper article for a Black newspaper, The Carolina Peacemaker, as a college student in 1977 — to lead your life’s passion and tireless work in its continuing journey. It is my hope and prayer that you, dear readers and new readers, will continue this journey with us.
Bonnie Newman Davis