Swensen on Progress Life

Daily Progress veteran Eric Swensen, who left in 2002 to cover local government for the Greensboro News & Record, writes this week’s “Vexed in the City” column, their regular feature on “being young and single in the Triad.” His topic: life at the Daily Progress.

I worked for a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., that often resembled college with a paycheck every two weeks. Many of the reporters were fresh out of college, and we’d generally roll in to work about 10:30 or 11 a.m. and stay until whenever the job was done. Sometimes that was 6:30 p.m., sometimes 10:30 p.m. Not quite an all-nighter but basically the same concept.

Despite making a little more than $20,000 a year, we’d eat out almost every day for lunch and sample nightlife four or five nights a week, having put our reporting skills to work to scope out drink specials around the city.

Nobody becomes a journalist for the money. But it’s amazing that the Daily Progress is as good as it is with wages like that.

17 thoughts on “Swensen on Progress Life”

  1. The Daily Progress is terrible. I dropped my subscription a couple of years ago because there was never any news in there that wasn’t already somewhere else. The editorial page stinks too, thanks to Anita Shelburnes heavy hand. Her controlling editing has alienated many people who would otherwise write interesting and thought provoking letters. The naive kids that cover local news have no imagination and are little more than amplifiers for Lee Catlin, Maurice Jones. UVa and other “official” news sources. Anyone who has worked for the “Regress” for any length of time, including the much heralded Gibson is a failure at journalism. They have a tremendous opportunity and I think, responsibility to cover and investigate local news and they just sit on their cans and regurgitate press releases that have been spoonfed to them. Phooey on that rag!

  2. The Daily Progres is *good*? Okay, now that’s called being happy happy!

    I said “as good as it is.” We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here. :)

  3. They must be doing something right as they have been around for over 100 years.Granted,would like to see something more left of center, but MG is a conservative -leaning organization, and what ownership says goes.If people want a more politically-liberal paper, start one. As for the editorial page, I see a variety of opinions expressed. Also be aware that they have to be careful-newspapers can be sued for libel even for something expressed in a letter to the editor.
    If you think the Progress’s editorial page is too conservative, take a look at the Times-Dispatch. I believe the words for some of their stances are “reactionary” and “neandertal.”
    The comments about the staff there were uncalled for. How many journalism awards have some of these people won?

  4. Who, besides you said the Regress editorial page is too conservative? I’m sure people believe it is and I am also sure that others believe that it’s too liberal. Nobody said that in this thread yet you seem to assume that I believe it is too conservative. In fact I think that the editorials are such bland preaching that I quit reading them a long time ago. I would just as soon they were open to a broad selection of different views from people living here. They should have plenty of op-ed pieces from the community that reflect the true diversity of opinion but they don’t because of the heavy handed editing of Anita Shelburne. I do have some experience with her and I know that she has edited letters and columns for content in a way that would cause many writers to bolt. It goes way beyond a need to protect against libel suits. It survives because it’s the only local daily paper. When I look at the stories that paper ignores and the poor job they do on the ones they cover I become very skeptical of the awards they may have received.

    The reporters at The Hook and The C’ville are better writers and reporters. The Hook does a better job at presenting an objective view and The C’ville gives you what you want…a strong tilt to the left.

    Go ahead and defend the mediocrity of The Progress, I’ll pick it up and glance at it but I’ll never waste my money on it.

  5. Yeah, so other papers are worse. I don’t care about other towns and cities local papers. The Daily Progress is a poor newspaper that is missing a huge opportunity to be a genuinely informative, interesting and entertaining newspaper.

  6. Hack,
    You remain anonymous and then call me a coward for doing the same. You want to attack me for who I am rather than what I wrote. Why would I tell you my name? That would be highly illogical. That’s it! I’m Spock!

    Call me some more names if it makes you feel good, it won’t change the fact that the Progress is still a terrible newspaper. Do you work there or have some connection with the paper or is there some other reason that my post has provoked such anger? I could be many people. Many people over many years have told me they have had similar experiences with Shelburne.

  7. madmad,

    editorial page criticism aside, how can you critcize the news articles in the progress if you never read it? the weeklies do a fine job covering news in charlottesville, but as far as daily news is concerned, no one does it better than the progress. oftentimes, progress reporters are the only ones to go beyond the press release. reporting on a recent fender bender involving a county cop car is a recent example of this. is the progress the new york times? no. but at least one former reporters has ended up working there and at other respected publications.

  8. Hack, please, let’s not go down the insult road. I’m tempted, too (often, I must admit :), but we’ll all be better off if we keep things, if not friendly, at least civil.

  9. Almost three years after leaving Charlottesville, I never imagined a story of mine would ever again be a topic of discussion here.

    I have to take issue with madman’s contention that anyone who works at the Progress for a long period of time – especially Bob Gibson – is automatically a failure. (Full disclosure: I worked for the Progress for more than three years.)

    I’m confident that with Bob’s reporting skills and knowledge of Virginia politics, he could get a job at just about any paper in the state. He doesn’t leave because he loves living in Charlottesville. That should be applauded instead of criticized, because reporters like Bob who have lived in the same place for a long time know more about the community and the people they’re covering. That produces better stories. Get enough experienced pros together, and the paper may even meet madman’s lofty standards.

    My bride-to-be – who also worked at the Progress – and I would have left the paper far sooner than we did if we didn’t love Charlottesville so much. I think that’s the secret to why the Progress is typically better than other papers its size – good, experienced reporters stay longer than they otherwise might because they enjoy the city.

    When experienced reporters do leave, they end up at the Associated Press and quality newspapers like the New York Times, the Roanoke Times and the Tennessean in Nashville.

    But because of the low pay, papers like the Progress typically go through cycles where experienced reporters leave for higher-paying jobs at bigger papers and are often replaced by reporters fresh out of school. It doesn’t mean the new reporters aren’t talented, but readers see their on-the-job training in the paper. And it takes time for new reporters to build their skills and learn the city.

    Is that ideal for readers? No. But that’s the way the newspaper business works, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    As for madman’s notion that the Progress does nothing but regurgitate official spin, take a look at the cvillenews.com archives. There’s lots of proof to the contrary.

  10. I don’t think MadMan is making this stuff up. If you claim a paper is bad, how many examples of badness must you present to support your opinion.

    I don’t want to be too harsh on the Progress. It’s the only local newspaper of record because they allow people to write letters on stories the paper missed. The Hook and Cville are newsmagazines because they require letter writers respond only to a story already covered.

    In 2002, the Progress reported mandatory conservation in the drought but didn’t know they had reported extensively on a severe drought 25 years earlier even though the Rivanna operations director and the chairman at the time had been on the city payroll during the previous drought. Even Bob Gibson should have remembered that drought.

    I predict the Progress will fold soon or be bought by someone who cares about Charlottesville and its history, and stop hiring people who don’t do their best work based on the pay level. So does this mean volunteers are the worst slackers of all because their pay is so low?

    Charlottesville and Albemarle County imposed mandatory water conservation August 22 for the first time in “possibly a half century.” The two ordinances were identical and took effect the next calendar day for the 80,000 customers. The maximum penalty for wasting water is $500 and water shut-off (“Water Limits Enacted,” Aug. 23, 2002, Daily Progress).

    Actually, the last mandatory water conservation was 1977. The ordinances were similar and took effect immediately with the same penalties applied to the 60,000 customers (“Mandatory Water Ordinances Enacted,” Oct. 8, 1977, Daily Progress). The restrictions remained in Albemarle for 34 days and a day longer in Charlottesville.

    from “The Last Drought” Sep 3 2002


    Interest in mayor system ignored: Schedule of 8 public forums

    Daily Progress continues black-out of urban renewal debate: One candidate aware of the issue

    For more intances of badness:

  11. Congratulations on your impending wedding, Eric. :) My fiancee and I tied the knot a couple of weeks ago. Remember — the engagement/wedding process is a proving ground. If your relationship can survive that, it can survive anything.

    More on topic, madman, I think you’re the only person that I’ve ever heard so much as imply that Bob Gibson is anything less than a major asset to Charlottesville. We have impressive talent in Charlottesville in many fields, in no small part because it’s such a great place to live. Is Lawrence Eagleburger a political failure because he lives in Charlottesville, rather than D.C.? Is John Grisham a literary failure because he lives in Charlottesville, rather than Manhattan? Is Dave Matthews Band a musical failure because they live in Charlottesville, rather than Los Angeles? Am I a failure because I live here rather than…um…someplace else? (Don’t answer that.)

    Bob Gibson very much belongs on our list of people who we’re lucky to have here, and whose presence is surely a direct result of Charlottesville simply being a great place to live.

  12. Waldo, congratulations on your wedding as well.

    As for the actual topic of discussion, I never claimed anywhere in my first post that the Progress was, is or ever will be perfect. That said, the complaints here seem to boil down to “my letters to the editor are edited too much” and “the Progress doesn’t cover my pet cause constantly.” Oh, and the Progress forgot to mention a 25-year-old drought. For that, 99 lashes for everyone involved.

    There are plenty of instances when the Progress has led the way in exposing problems, such as the scandal earlier this year involving Charlottesville police officers. (I found that one, by the way, under cvillenative’s above link to instances of Daily Progress badness.)

    As for cvillenative’s claim that people at the Progress don’t do their best work because of the low pay, that’s completely wrong. Reporters give the Progress their best work so they can go somewhere else and make decent money.

    Finally, I have a hard time imagining Media General will ever sell or fold the Progress as long as it’s making the kind of money it does now.

  13. Remember a while back when the Virginia School Board Association said Cville has an inflated self-image. In order to maintain that level of ego, we must dismiss all constructive criticism. Not just the minute details but the big picture as well. Bob Gibson is not a failure. He’s just floating along on his reputation. Why have experienced reporters if they don’t report their experience when the related topic arises? You need only compare articles from the ’70s with those of today on a wide array of subjects to see that the Progress does not have the level of excellence it once had. But, hey, it’s a nationwide phenomenon. And I don’t want the Progress to fold. I just wish the articles were reported with a little historical context, which requires research. But if the paper is profitable as is, there’s no reason to make any changes other than the occasional cosmetic make-over.

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