No longer ‘Hook’-ed
The managing board bids farewell to Charlottesville’s alternative weekly
Any journalist should bristle at the cliché “no news is good news.” But lately, when newspapers themselves have made headlines, the news has not been good.
The plight of national newspapers has been well-documented. Such eminent publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post have erected digital paywalls in recent years. These paywalls attempt to stem losses caused by a decline in print advertising revenue and also in the number of readers willing to pay for a print edition that they can access online.
It’s arguably the metropolitan dailies and the community newspapers that have been least able to adapt to an increasingly hostile media environment. Charlottesville’s The Hook is the latest casualty. It will publish its last issue on Sept. 26.
The Hook is not Charlottesville’s first weekly. The news magazine grew out of a dispute between the three owners of C-Ville Weekly, which launched in 1989. Hawes Spencer, one of C-Ville Weekly’s co-founders, was ousted from that paper’s ranks in 2002. So he started The Hook. Spencer led the alternative weekly until he sold his stake in the company and stepped down as editor at the end of 2012.
In 2011, the parent companies that produced C-Ville Weekly and The Hook merged. At the time of the merger, the plan was to bring together just the companies, not the publications. By pooling resources — office space, advertising staff, and so on — the two papers could save a lot of money. But each publication would stick to its niche: C-Ville Weekly would focus on arts, culture and human-interest stories, and The Hook would continue to try its hand at hard news and investigative reporting.
Nonetheless, the stage was set for Charlottesville to revert back to being a one-weekly town. The schism that produced The Hook has now been fully undone: C-Ville Weekly is reabsorbing its literary offspring.
The frantic pace of journalism does not lend itself well to perfection, and like any newspaper, The Hook was far from perfect. But it contributed to Charlottesville’s public life in significant ways. The paper ran stories other publications shied away from. Sometimes, as in its tone-deaf feature that former University Rector Helen Dragas had engaged in “plus-size bullying” against University President Teresa Sullivan, the paper’s penchant for rumor did not work in its favor. But elsewhere, The Hook’s boldness helped it cast light on stories that needed to be told. Its award-winning feature about the hunt for Morgan Harrington, the Virginia Tech student who disappeared from John Paul Jones Arena in 2009, is just one example.
In recent weeks, we have seen C-Ville Weekly trying to rework its reputation. The paper’s staff put a lot of work into its coverage of the revival of a long-stalled proposal to build a Route 29 bypass around Charlottesville. C-Ville Weekly’s efforts included a web page featuring videos, maps, photos and other graphics. It seems clear that the publication is trying to establish itself as a legitimate source of hard news — as a paper devoted to more than arts and soft features.
Though we hope that C-Ville Weekly will be able to extend its investigative reporting efforts to replace the niche its former competitor once held, we are dismayed to hear that The Hook is folding. An unfortunate byproduct of a Darwinian media market has been a drop in the total number of vibrant newspapers, and the consolidation of the papers that remain. Our view is that the more press a community has, the better. Each publication can serve a particular sector, and a greater number of voices helps enrich the way a community reflects upon itself. With a move toward oligopoly comes a reduction in the number of viewpoints make it into the public arena.
The Hook’s closure is a sobering reminder of the challenges that community papers — such as The Cavalier Daily — face. The market for local journalism remains fragile. What we have with The Cavalier Daily is a special opportunity to contribute to the civil and intellectual lives of people in the University and Charlottesville communities. With this goal in mind, we bid The Hook a fond farewell, and we wish C-Ville Weekly luck in enfolding its former competitor into its pages.