RVANews founder and publisher Ross Catrow’s June 6 post header image on his editorial column meant bad news. The “GOODBYE” was spelled in stones that Hawkeye Pierce viewed when his helicopter lifted off for the last time from the #4077th, which, come to think of it, now looks like a Twitter handle.
Catrow could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a detailed valedictory, he explained why he decided that on Friday, June 10, he'd cease the site's operations. He plans to keep the content available online, and will continue his "Good Morning, RVA" posts. Catrow writes, "I’ve found it to be very rewarding, so I’m gonna keep doing it." Beyond that, "I don’t want to commit to anything, but you know how sometimes I just can’t not write about buses, or bikes, or education, or City Council …"
For that, we are thankful.
RVANews, the online aggregator of neighborhood blogs and news, turned 5 in 2013. When I wrote about this benchmark, Catrow observed, as though calling up memories of 1905, not 2005, "Back then, everybody was blogging. People weren't using Google Reader."
“Back then,” Catrow and business partner Scott Pharr ran the PharrOut web design company. Catrow, a Richmonder since 1994 via Chicago, Brazil, Virginia Tech and marrying local native Valerie Catrow, née Harris, started RVABlogs.
What originated as a harnessing mechanism to yoke together the region's blogs grew into RVANews.com. The website provides — has provided; this is a tough transition — weekly content and news-you-can-use for its audience in the world of paperless media.
The various blogs generated virtual reams of content, from kittens needing homes to real estate for sale. But actual reporting about goings-on led to the company's decision to set up RVANews. The site went live Nov. 1, 2007.
Catrow then wanted to write an original story a day, which soon doubled, and then became seven. Valerie, who wrote for the site when it started, took a break to stay home with the Catrows' son, Jackson. She took on editing "Raising Richmond," the family section of RVANews.
The team of RVANews included designer Brandon Gibson, Lauren Eubank in sales, and senior writer Nathan Cushing. Catrow said when the site turned 5 that he thought it excelled during the manslaughter charges brought in Czech court against Lamb of God's Randy Blythe and the controversy surrounding Art 180's Monument Avenue art display.
The site added podcasts including “The Boring Show,” which brought a CSPAN quality to coverage, but also entertainment and information, from “Instant Everything” with Prabir Mehta and Kevin Hann to civic planning, “What’s the Plan,” with Catrow and Giles Harnsberger.
In 2008, Richmond received kudos for its neighborhood-based news dissemination from a study by the Missouri School of Journalism. The report observed that Richmond had the “most developed community of citizen journalism sites” among 15 metropolitan media markets examined.
But online publishing for small- and moderate-size sites is a challenging business; tough to earn a revenue stream and retain talent, though many Richmond freelancers went through the virtual columns of RVANews. Catrow maintained a sense of wit about the passing parade and understood, too, that the back-fence exchange of information was a time-honored tradition now gone electric.
The rise of social media changed the landscape of community news coverage, allowing more voices to be heard across a number of different media. Catrow observed in 2013, “Ten years ago, everyone with something to say did so on their own blog. But now, there are a ton of different mediums … on which regular-type folks can contribute to RVA’s collective pool of community journalism.” While there may be fewer standalone news sites, in fact “there are more people doing community journalism” than there were 10 years earlier.
Facebook and other social media networks didn't exist when Richmond's community blogs went live. Now anybody can say anything about everything whether or not they actually know what they're writing about.
The evolution of Richmond’s online community will likely merit a retrospective study — if it hasn’t already.
Catrow remembered in 2013, "I was a mathematics major in college and ended up doing web design. Now I'm a publisher of a magazine that doesn't apply to any of them. We've become part of the city. People recognize us. I never would've been able to predict this is where we'd end up."
Well, who knew. And now this phase of the endeavor is done. So … so.