BY SUNDAY afternoon, the pile of folded papers on my dining room table has usually grown pretty high. There are the five issues of The Cavalier Daily, whatever issues of The Washington Post that are still around from the week, and the two weekend issues of The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg's local paper. I actually read our paper and most of The Post when I have the time, but I'll freely admit that most of my local paper goes straight into the recycle bin.
Why, then, do I subscribe to The Free Lance-Star at all (other than my residing guilt if I don't support the local paper)? There are two simple reasons: first, the weekly TV guide (I can never remember what cable channel is what) and another insert called "Town & County." "Town & County" is basically a quirky Life section specially tailored to the culture and folks around Fredericksburg. Its usual features include articles on Virginia heritage, historic places, Civil War battles, local celebrities, pets, household tips and gardening.
Still, the strength of "Town & County" isn't the breadth of its coverage. I pull out each issue to read on Sunday because the articles are so well-researched and written (so, okay, I skip the gardening, but I do read the rest). The features don't only report on events, places and people ("Patrick Henry slept in this inn."). The paper makes them relevant to the lives of the readers and this is a skill that we, even at the esteemed Cavalier Daily, can learn from a lowly local paper.
Perhaps you've never wondered who they call in to fix historic grist mills in Northern Virginia, coped with the death of a pet, or wanted to look up ancestors that fought in the Civil War. Still, you may have wondered what qualities in particular make Eric Dean Hutter such "a good guy" (other than the vague he's "good-natured and fun to be around" comments reported in last Monday's paper). Maybe you'd like to find out what Sally Hemings did after she was freed in Thomas Jefferson's will (according to Vice Mayor Meredith Richards, the Hemings family made numerous contributions to Charlottesville -- great! What were they?). Or perhaps you would like to know what sort of investment options make the most sense for college students with limited funds (wouldn't that be a useful business article? You might even clip it out and make some money in case art history doesn't end up being the field of the future).
Instead, most of our articles simply straightforwardly report the news. This is, of course, great in some cases. We need to be told about the reasons the NCAA ruled two Jefferson Scholars ineligible just as the University community should be kept informed of legal cases or future programs that might affect community members.
Unfortunately, though, we're also continually being reported news that we're told is important to us as members of the community that, quite simply, is not. Every report on streaking or article on the tiresome fraternity rush debate that finds its way into the paper results in complaints from students who simply don't see why the repeated whining of the IFC should matter to them. Odd, isn't it, how the squeaky wheel gets the grease in journalism, but the positive attributes of student organizations like fraternity and sorority fund-raisers are rarely mentioned?
To be sure, The Cavalier Daily is a newspaper -- not a life circular. Even so, we need to remember that we are a community resource and to make sure that we represent the interests of our community members while linking them to the larger world. This semester has seen decided improvement in the reporting of national and international news, features of the University (Homer, for example), local sites (wineries, battlefields), and various community members and groups. But many interests are still being underrepresented.
No one has written on the international community at U.Va. Despite the numerous qualifications of our many professors here at the University, few are ever asked to comment on local or national events. Even special guests to the University, like the speakers at last weekend's National Undergraduate Bioethics Convention, get shortchanged. We are not fulfilling our potential as a newspaper when we fail to take advantage of the many opportunities given to us. Reporting alone isn't enough to draw a University community or paper together.
Show me the numbers
On a final and totally unrelated note, I would really like to see some graphical representation of the numbers that keep cropping up in news articles. Call me visually minded, but I simply cannot get my mind around statistics that are reported in paragraphs. A chart showing comparing the number of cases initiated and brought to Honor trial, broken down by class and race, would have really added to Tuesday's article and lead edit. Similarly, a graph showing the real dollar values of moving fraternity rush to the spring would have actually added something new to the debate.
If you have suggestions, comments or questions, please send them in to