For the many residents of Rappahannock County I’ve not had the opportunity to meet, please allow me to introduce myself as your new editor of the Rappahannock News.
It certainly took some time and effort to work my way into this important position: 35 years of daily news deadlines, which frankly doesn’t surpass the journalism experience of Roger Piantadosi, whose byline fortunately will continue to appear in these pages.
I’m delighted to have found a home in the Rappahannock News. Several years ago, after I’d moved into my log cabin near Woodville, then-publisher Walter Nicklin (when I was a boy Walter lived two doors down from my family in Old Town Alexandria) suggested I write the occasional story for this newspaper.
I smiled and thanked him for the opportunity, but I was already penning too many lines in too many journals and my whole point of being in Rappahannock County was to escape into the woods.
If I only understood then where Walter was coming from I would have eagerly accepted his invitation. And also thanked him for being the caliber of newspaper publisher—as Dennis Brack is today—that is so vital for the strength of our communities.
Three years ago I set off rather hesitantly for Asbury Park, New Jersey. All I knew about this gritty stretch of the Jersey Shore was that Bruce Springsteen called it home and now suddenly Scott Rasmussen, co-founder of sports-giant ESPN, was launching a digital news company there. I came aboard as the site’s director of content.
I doubt Walter and Scott know one another, and I dare suspect both sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Still, as members of the Fourth Estate, each instilled in me a central belief: constructive “citizen journalism” empowers people, engages them in society, and creates a stronger community.
“The absence of such community involvement . . . has clearly negative consequences,” Rasmussen has lectured, adding that a positive community governing process can connect to larger state and national policy issues.
Take fallout from last November’s divisive presidential election, which continues to split communities across the nation—Rappahannock County included. As Scott will tell you “we can remain optimistic by remembering that most governing of society takes place closer to home.”
As for Walter, this newspaper’s publisher emeritus has been researching the “fake news” phenomenon permeating the country. This past week he drew attention to a widely circulated online story about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “winning only 57 counties” nationwide.
A well-educated but gullible friend of Walter’s had forwarded the story, assuming it factual. Walter took a few minutes to point out to his friend that Clinton was victorious in more than three dozen of the Old Dominion’s 95 counties and 38 county equivalents (independent cities like Alexandria), so certainly she won more than 57 of the 3,142 counties and county equivalents in the entire United States.
“Use common sense,” he pleads, whether reading, forwarding or writing a story. Simply presenting the facts without an overabundance of editorializing or mud-slinging, he continues, will increase the chances that people will hear you out and respect whatever content you present.
With this guidance in mind, it is now me encouraging readers of this newspaper to become more engaged in our community as citizen journalists. It can be as simple as writing a short story about your daughter’s soccer coach-turned-mentor, or perhaps there’s an unsung community volunteer or in your eyes a real-life hero who goes that extra mile. The Comment page of the Rappahannock News is in particular need of thoughtful commentary submissions on issues related to our unique county and its future. And of course we’re always delighted to receive letters to the editor.
You may be surprised to see how these articles serve to impress and educate our community, stimulate much-needed dialogue, and make Rappahannock County a better place to live and work. Our editors are standing by to assist you. Stories and photographs can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to Rappahannock News, 309 Jett St., Washington, VA 22747. Thank you, and I hope to greet you in person soon.
— John McCaslin