As it gets trickier to remain employed in the field of journalism, sometimes it's smart to step into a new role. That's what Dave Ress, a longtime investigative reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, did last August.
He moved to Staunton, where he's the local editor for the Daily News Leader, overseeing a staff of five writers. Speaking the morning after election night, Ress says he misses many of his former colleagues, but he's found a sense of mission in the Shenandoah Valley.
"It still feels like a paper that's looking forward to something better, rather than worrying about the state of the industry," Ress says. "It's fun to be on a paper that's fighting back somehow."
Editing, instead of reporting, is "not hugely different." The reporters, news clerks and assistants "talk the same language," Ress adds. "We work with the same challenges I dealt with for a long time at the T-D. The heart of what a reporter does is observe and analyze."
One huge difference between his new paper and the old one is that the Gannett-owned Daily News Leader is hiring.
The paper has taken on two reporters since Ress came aboard, including Calvin Trice, a former T-Der. That's a step in the right direction, considering how many other publications are buying out or laying off editorial staff. Trice lost his Times-Dispatch job in the April 2009 round of layoffs that also claimed Carlos Santos, the Charlottesville-based state desk reporter, and Rex Bowman, who covered Southwest Virginia and is now with the Roanoke Times.
Ress says those layoffs, which removed 59 newsroom and non-newsroom employees, were particularly painful because he, Trice, Bowman and Santos formed a bond while working together on stories about the 2006 Virginia Tech massacre, which he describes as the most difficult subject he's encountered as a journalist.
Some of Ress' former colleagues have found full-time or freelance work elsewhere, but others are out of journalism altogether. Ress says he's found an oasis in Staunton. The communities the paper covers, including Waynesboro and Augusta County, have many issues worth writing about: education, environment, mental health and politics. And unlike most places in the United States, the Daily News Leader has print competition in the form of the News Virginian, owned by Media General.
Although he's been at the paper only a few months, Ress can point to a few significant stories, including a look back at a Waynesboro school that was successfully integrated in the early 1960s during Massive Resistance. Although the story went largely untold for decades, Ress notes, "That's a part of our history that's not far under the surface in Virginia."
Although we hear the drumbeat that print journalism is bad business, Ress disagrees. Information is valuable, he says, and so is the press' constitutional mission. "If you do it right, it matters to people."