PARTING SHOT: The indispensable nature of student journalism

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Tim Dodson was the editor-in-chief for the 129th term of The Cavalier Daily. Prior to this, he served as the managing editor for the 128th term and news editor for the 127th term. 

Courtesy Jannatul Pramanik

Two summers ago, I found myself choking on chemical irritants and struggled to breathe. I took in the scenes around me: heavily-armed militias patrolling the streets, newspaper boxes tipped over, a man who looked like he had been pepper-sprayed, helicopters buzzing overhead, people fighting in the streets and police standing by, declining to intervene. White supremacist groups had invaded Charlottesville and provoked violence and counter-protests, and our city soon became a hashtag. Alongside a team of Alexis Gravely, Anna Higgins and Daniel Hoerauf, I was reporting from the middle of the chaos for The Cavalier Daily. 

The white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville in August 2017 were nationally-significant events, but when the cable news journalists and their satellite trucks left town, the local community grappled with how to move forward from that traumatic weekend. Local news coverage of Aug. 11 and 12 and the aftermath underscored the critical role of local reporters in keeping the community informed and documenting our grief, outrage and recovery. 

Those days and the weeks that followed were some of the busiest of my time on The Cavalier Daily, and I couldn’t catch a breath. It would take me months to actually start processing what I witnessed and I still struggle with how to come to terms with a terrorist attack. But in the immediate aftermath of Aug. 11 and A12, the Cavalier Daily was the only constant in my life and we had to keep moving. 

Working on the paper provided an opportunity to witness events and give back to a community I’ve lived in my entire life. But it was also a great responsibility — readers place their trust in us to get our stories right and when we make mistakes, we need to correct them and publicly own up to our errors. 

I deeply care about the role of the Cavalier Daily in our community and not a day goes by that I don’t think about the stories I helped cover during my time on the paper. I can’t walk past the amphitheater without hearing echoes of the voice of Alex Vagonis, the girlfriend of the late U.Va. student Otto Warmbier who spoke at his vigil and recalled how Otto was her “soulmate.” I avoid the Jefferson statue near the Rotunda because I can almost feel the heat of the neo-Nazis’ torches from their infamous march through Grounds. Whenever I walk past the federal courthouse downtown, I recall the hours members of our news team and I spent covering Nicole Eramo’s defamation suit against Rolling Stone magazine. 

My point in bringing all of this up is that in an era where President Donald Trump and others decry “fake news,” there’s student journalists at U.Va. committed to sharing real, hard-hitting news and writing a historic record for our time at the University. Here are just a handful of the hundreds of articles we’ve published during my time at U.Va.: 

  • Former Assistant Managing Editor Alexis Gravely profiled Jada Howard, a parking attendant who lost her job when the University installed an automated parking system in the Central Grounds Garage. 
  • Last October, we wrote a three-part series on the challenges that Hispanic and Latinx students face at the University, including a lack of access to financial aid documents translated into Spanish. The paper also published a Spanish version of that article (we have published Chinese and Spanish translations of articles in recent years) online and I believe that was the first time we’ve published a Spanish language article in our print edition. 
  • News Writer Geremia Di Maro recently took a deep dive into raising the minimum wage for contracted employees at U.Va. 
  • Gravely and former Arts & Entertainment Editor Thomas Roades traveled to Washington, D.C. last August, where they reported on thousands of people showing up to protest against a white supremacist “Unite the Right 2” rally. 

This isn’t to say The Cavalier Daily is perfect. We don’t make it to every event, we sometimes are late getting to a story, and we have a ways to go in improving our coverage of different communities at the University. But I’m proud of the team I’ve been a part of and I’m confident our work will continue to improve. 

Because this is a “parting shot,” here are some final thoughts: 

To the Cavalier Daily staff, thank you for offering an environment of unconditional love, where people can be themselves and do what they’re passionate about. 

To our readers, keep holding the paper accountable and pushing it to be the best publication it can be.

To those who care about the future of college journalism, the Cavalier Daily is a non-profit organization and receives no funding from the University. We have to pay our monthly rent, printing bills, and a handful of other expenses, and we can’t do this without your support. If you have the means and have enjoyed reading the Cavalier Daily, I invite you to support student journalists at U.Va. and make a tax-deductible donation.

As I approach graduation, I often think of a phrase that my predecessor, Mike Reingold, mentioned in his column last year: the joy is in the journey. It’s been an honor to have been a part of The Cavalier Daily during this journey and I’m thankful for the lifelong friends I made along the way. And I’m humbled by the trust that you, our readers, placed in me. 

Tim Dodson was the editor-in-chief for the 129th term of The Cavalier Daily. Prior to this, he served as the managing editor for the 128th term and news editor for the 127th term. 

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