Category Archives: Race and race relations

The Richmond Elite’s Bizarre Self Image

richmond-times-dispatchBy Peter Galuszka

If one wants to know one source of Richmond’s malaise, she or he need look no further than the pages of the Richmond Times Dispatch, the mouthpiece of the city’s elite. This is especially true when one reads this morning’s edition. The inadvertent revelations about the city and what is wrong with its leadership are stunning.

Some background. Last week, Style Weekly, an alternative newspaper in the city, published a hard-hitting cover story taking a ground-up view of just how awful and neglected the city’s school buildings and system are. The coverage is very much contrary to the image Richmond’s “leadership” wants to sell about the city.

As the schools are mismanaged and families are abused, the Richmond elite, and the RTD’s editors are pushing other pet projects such as building a new baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom to replace a crumbling one elsewhere and a chamber of commerce trip to Tampa by 159 “leaders” to learn how another city works.

Full disclosure: I am a contributing editor at Style but had no input to the school story. I did file two blog postings about the schools story and received a number of highly insightful comments by readers. The basic problem, as several put it, is that  the schools are a mess is that the middle class has moved to the suburbs, the upper class sends its children to private schools and many of those left aren’t in a position to join the debate are have much influence. One out of every four people living in the city is poor.

The TD’s coverage today is a wonderful blueprint about exactly what is wrong with the elite’s thinking. Examples:

  • The front page features a catch-up story featuring short 125 word essays written by seven city council members and nine school board members. Three council members, Reva Trammell, Michelle R. Mosby and Cynthia Newbill – didn’t respond, perhaps wisely. The story states that judging from the responses, “momentum is building” for “substantive change.” The council, the school board and the mayor are working together. Mind you, this is not based on any real reporting—such as shoe leather in the school halls. Instead, one gets to read what the leadership responsible for the horrific problems thinks about them – sort of like interviewing the foxes after they raid the chicken coop. An added extra: the RTD claims it sent out its questionnaires before Style published its story, sort of like backdating stock options.
  • Flip to the “Commentary” section and a piece by John W. Martin, CEO and president of the “Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond and frequent opinions contributor to the TD. His piece is basically an extended apology for proposing a new stadium in the middle of the blooded ground of the country’s second-largest slave market – standard stuff. Especially bizarre is the art. It is a cartoon drawing of what appears to be an interracial couple happily walking near what could be a combined slave memorial ballpark. The man is white, blond, wears a Richmond polo shirt and is flipping a baseball. His arm is around an African-American woman in sports togs and carrying designer shopping bags. In front is an apparently mixed-race child in a Flying Squirrels baseball cap happily holding out his glove to catch the ball from dad. The effect is downright creepy. It insults the intelligence of the readers and hits a very sensitive raw nerve, given Richmond’s sad history of race relations and the TD’s historic support of segregation five decades ago when it really mattered.
  • Let’s move to the Op-ed page where there is piece by Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the University of Richmond business school and upcoming chair of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. She was part of the chamber’s trip to Tampa to “learn” how they do it (while Richmond’s school buildings crumble). Her important takeaways seem to be that Tampa puts lights on its bridges, that it is a big port city, the region has distinctive personalities and that there are some universities there. Her conclusion: “I fell love with Tampa during out visit, but “I’m still married to Richmond.” Now that is extremely helpful.
  • Lastly, there is an impenetrable story by TD publisher Thomas A. Silvestri about several fictitious people discussing Tampa. Unsure of the point, I read the endline bio of Silvestri. It says he used to head the chamber and did not go on the Tampa trip because he’s been there before.

So, there you have it folks. Instead of real reporting, you have Richmond’s elite, some of whom are responsible for the problems, interviewing themselves. And that is a big reason why the city is in such a huge mess.

“Where Is the Closest Tiki Bar?”

tiki_barBy Peter Galuszka

Often times, blog commenters really hit the nail on the head. This is the case with “Virginiagal2” who responded to my blog post earlier this week that Richmond’s schools are decrepit and crumbling, as Style Weekly detailed in a recent cover story.

They note that Richmond’s elite has done little for its public schools while chasing higher-profile and extraneous projects such as a summer training camp for the Washington Redskins and a new baseball stadium for the Minor League AA Flying Squirrels.

Schools? What schools?

Blog posts also note that NFL football star Russell Wilson, a Richmonder, stayed at private Collegiate school after his father saw academics as more important than sports and blunted maneuvers by Richmond public schools to recruit Wilson during his school years.

Part of the problem, as Virginiagal2 notes, is that Richmond’s select and self-appointed “leadership” ignores the city’s serious problems while they embark another pointless road trip to another city, typically in the sunny South, to gather ideas on how they should proceed with their (how to describe?) “leadership.”

Just a week or so ago, about 160 of Richmond’s “leaders” were bopping around Tampa, sampling its eateries and noting the watery views. The biggest cheerleader for these junkets is The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is very much a propaganda organ of the area’s chamber of commerce. Its publisher Thomas A. Silvestri was chamber chair a few years back yet few commented on the potential conflict of interest. On the Tampa trip, the editor of the editorial pages wrote a supposedly cute series of reports in a “postcard” (ha-ha) style about the Tampa trip. Here’s one tidbit:

“About 160 Richmonders will spend three days sipping from Tampa’s version of youth’s fabled fountain. Where oh where is the closest tiki bar?”

I couldn’t have said that better myself. Next, I’d like to copy what Virginiagal2 had to say in response to my blog. She absolutely nails it:

“The cost of sending a kid to Collegiate is beyond a lot of young families. What do you think those Richmond families value the most – a sports team that has around 5,000 people attend games, or a good safe public school for their kids? The RTD has been shilling for the stadium for months – when’s the last time the RTD advocated for money for better city schools? Do you ever remember them encouraging businesses to partner with city schools? Advocate for vouchers, yes – advocate for baseball, yes – improve the overall public schools, no.

‘nuf said.

Richmond’s Huge and Hidden Problem

The Seahawk's Wilson

The Seahawk’s Wilson

 By Peter Galuszka

There’s been plenty of image-building on this blog site in favor of what is perceived to be a “new” Richmond.

In this view, the former Capital of the Confederacy famous for its gentile white elite and, unfortunately, race politics, is being transformed to a major draw for talented young people and active retirees with plenty of diversity. Some evidence bears this out, such as the wealth of arts and culture and increasing upscale apartment rentals in the city.

The image is being pushed along by Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones who wants to anchor his downtown drive by placing a controversial baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. There is plenty of angst about his idea given that the city has other, more pressing concerns. They include its 26 percent poverty rate and the fact that the mostly white suburban counties seem to be moving farther from the Richmond sphere of influence.

There’s yet another big and unaddressed problem that may spell the ultimate fate of the city. Its school system is decrepit, as two recent stories in Style Weekly to which I contribute, point out.

One is a deeply reported cover story this week by Tom Nash that takes readers on a horrifying tour of several Richmond schools. Thompson Middle School has ceiling that ooze gunk. Diluted tar falls in classrooms. Fairfield Court Elementary needs a new roof. A tile fell on a student but the fix is $90,000 or one fifth of the district’s school budget for the year. Tom reveals more problems at Carver Elementary and Armstrong High, among others.

Most of Richmond’s school buildings are more than 60 years old. Dana Bedden, the system’s new superintendent, says school buildings are the worst he’s ever seen and that includes a stint in the District of Columbia. Reports say that $26 million is needed just this year to make a corrective dent in the problem.

Another Style story of note is an opinion piece by Carol A.O. Wolf, a former journalist and school board member. It was published in February, just after the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl. The star was Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson who grew up in Richmond.

Wilson’s dad placed him at Collegiate, a highly regarded private school in the West End. The Sporting News reported that when Wilson was a ninth grader at Collegiate, Richmond public schools started angling to recruit him to play ball for them. Dad said no. According to him, “I didn’t put Russell in Collegiate for sports, I put Russell in Collegiate to get the best education he could get.”

So much for Richmond’s public schools. It’s really too bad, as well, that the public school system is so neglected and that the mayor and other opinion makers are ignoring huge municipal problems in favor of top-down development like the new baseball stadium of questionable value.

What Happened? Did All the Racists Move North?

Image credit: New York Times

Image credit: New York Times

by James A. Bacon

NewYork state has the most segregated schools in the country, according to a new report published by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, New York State’s Extreme School Segregation.Other states with highly segregated schools include Illinois, Michigan and California.

“In the 30 years I have been researching schools, New York state has consistently been one of the most segregated states in the nation — no Southern state comes close to New York,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the project, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Hmmm. How remarkable. What do those four states have in common? Here’s one thing. Their electorates all skew liberal and Democratic, as shown by the percentages that voted for Barack Obama in 2012:

New York — 62.6%
California — 59.3%
Illinois — 57.3%
Michigan — 54.3%

Bacon’s bottom line: Liberals have the loftiest of intentions. They pride themselves upon their enlightened racial attitudes and routinely malign their Republicans and conservative opponents as racist. But there is a vast gulf between intentions and results. It is no accident that the most segregated schools in the country are in blue states. Segregation is the unintended outcome of other “progressive” policies, particularly zoning, also enacted for the very best of reasons. (See Daniel Kay Hertz’ essay on the link between zoning and segregation in Chicago for how that works.)

The trouble with most liberals (not all, there are a few honest ones) is that they seem so incapable of self-reflection. Will this study prompt serious introspection and a wave of reform in New York? Will white liberals, struck by their massive hypocrisy, restrain their impulse to label as racist those who disagree with their policy prescriptions? Not a chance.

Most realistically, will African-Americans, traditionally a core constituency of the liberal/Democratic coalition, wake up and realize that their real enemies are not racists under every bed (like the phantasmagorical communists of the McCarthy era) but the ideology and practice of liberalism? I think that’s a distinct possibility.

Virginia’s Philosophical Crossroads

Judge-Arenda-Wright-Allen-Virginia

Judge Arenda Wright Allen

Standing before a trim, white, clapboard house off Lafayette Boulevard in Norfolk last week, friends and supporters of gay rights cheered loudly as two same sex couples approached a front-yard podium to celebrate their legal victory in having Virginia’s gay marriage ban overturned.

The night before, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, citing Abraham Lincoln and the unfairness of the state’s previous ban on interracial marriage, had declared Virginia’s ban unconstitutional.

It had been supported by the state’s conservatives and also by 57 percent of voters who approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 declaring marriage as only for men and women. Popular opinion, however, appears to have shifted

It was an historic moment on a par with federal courts overturning racial segregation and other blunt violations of human rights. Seventeen states now allow gay marriage and a host of lawsuits tend to push overturning bans. Virginia is the first Southern state to do so.

Immediately, hard-right politicians such as Prince William County’s Bob Marshall called for the judge’s impeachment just as some demanded the ouster of the new state Attorney General, Mark Herring, for, correctly, refusing to defend the marriage ban.

The situation represents a huge shift in philosophy for the state. For years, Virginia has been dominated by conservative thinking that is enormously contradictory.

As Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro points out this morning, the tension is between promoting limited government and individual freedom in some areas (little regulation of business and politicians) and badly suppressing individual rights in cases such as marriage and abortion.

Just as history was being made in Norfolk federal court, the General Assembly was putting the finishing touches on useless new rules that do next to nothing to police Virginia’s incredibly lax governance of gift giving and political donations.

This comes after the state’s reputation was badly stained by the first-ever indictment of a former governor (Robert F. McDonnell) on federal corruption charges. So much for “the Virginia way” that touts Thomas Jefferson and the entire cadre for freedom.

I have always been frustrated by the state’s bi-polar attitudes about individual rights. Not a Virginian by birth, I was glad to leave the state in 1983 after reporting from it for about eight years. I was sick and tired of its genuflecting before big business on environment and labor issues. Little-regulated Big Business, after all, had given Virginians such presents the Kepone ecological disaster.

Years later, I was passing through Virginia from New York driving from New York to visit my parents in North Carolina. We stopped at a Denny’s and were told by a waitress that we could not order our cheeseburgers medium rare because that’s what the legislature had ruled. More recently, I ended up shelling out a few hundred bucks because my daughter needed new contact lenses and state rules require unneeded yearly optical exams. Apparently that’s due to lobbying by the state eye-care industry.

The philosophical contradictions are finally catching up. Even though proponents of gay rights at the Norfolk press conference made a big deal about Virginia being the first “southern” state to confront ending the gay marriage ban, I am not so sure the state is really “Southern” any more. Continue reading

Why Are Virginians Such Weather Whoosies?

norilskBy Peter Galuszka

The other day I tried to book a lunch date with the Blogger in Chief but was informed that inclement weather was looming on the Old Dominion and he might be hibernating for a few days.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I awoke to find a few inches of snow and some light sleet pelting around. Sure enough, the state seems to have shut down. This begs another question. Why are Virginians such weather whoosies?

Millions of people around the world live and work in much harsher conditions. I spent six years reporting from Moscow in the 1980s and 1990s and had plenty of bone-chilling experiences. There was that ultra-cold day in Novosibirsk just before Thanksgiving when the temperature was about minus 30. But if you want to consider the granddaddy of them all, go to Norilsk in Siberia, the northern-most city of more than 100,000 in the world.

khodorkovsyI went to Norilsk in January 1996 for a BusinessWeek cover story on the crop of rising oligarchs who were cashing in on post-Communist privatization. One was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a geek-turned-billionaire who, ironically, was just recently released by President Vladimir Putin after spending a decade in prison. It was a pre-Sochi Olympics gesture to make nice. I had interviewed Khodorkovsky many times and found him a meek and thoughtful man.

Another oligarch was Vladimir Potanin who was cornering the market on Russia’s vast reserves of precious metals. It was thanks to Potanin that I got to go to Norilsk. He was involved in a rough proxy battle to take over Norilsk’s rich array of smelters insofar as Russia was capable of having real proxy fights back in the 1990s.

Vladimir-PotaninSo, with Potanin’s invitation, Alexei, a Russian photographer, and I jetted off to Norilsk, a horrible, treeless snow-swept waste. It has a particularly horrible history.

Founded at the end of the 1920s, Norilsk became a center of Stalin’s GULAG system which in this case exploited rich reserves of nickel, cobalt, copper, platinum, palladium and coal. The only way in or out if by air or by rail and road to a specially built port on a river that flows into the Arctic Ocean.

Norilsk is covered with snow for up to 270 days a year and has snow storms lasting a total of about 120 days. In January and February, the average lows are about minus 23. Record lows are about minus 63.

Political prisoners built up a huge metals mining and metallurgical apparatus from the 1930s until the 1950s. More than 16,000 died and many fatalities occurred during World War II when food was short.

When we arrived at the airport, we were met by one of Potanin’s black limousines that hustled us across a snowy tundra road whose outlines only the driver could see. Our hotel was a shamble of brickwork and amenities were similar to what many reporters are finding today in Sochi albeit no stray dogs. They’d be dead. Tracked bulldozers worked 24/7 keeping snow from piling up.

Rogov and I had trouble finding food. The hotel kitchen was closed and we slogged down the streets until we pounded on the door of a closed restaurant and convinced them to give us something to eat. Continue reading

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

It’s sad to see mccrorytwo states to which I have personal ties – North Carolina and West Virginia — in such bad ways.

The latest raw news comes from the Tar Heel state where we are seeing the handiwork of hard-right- Gov. Pat McCrory who has been on a tear for a year now bashing civil rights here, pulling back from regulation there.

The big news is Duke Energy’s spill of coal ash and contaminated water near Eden into the Dan River, which supplies Danville and potentially Virginia Beach with drinking water. Reports are creeping out that the McCrory regime has been pressuring the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to pull back from regulation.

According to Rachel Maddow, DENR officials had stepped in with environmentalists as plaintiffs on two occasions in lawsuits to get Duke Energy to clean up coal ash. But when a third suit was filed, McCrory, a former Charlotte Mayor and career Duke Energy employee, influenced a third lawsuit settlement against Duke to be delayed.

Also, not long before the Eden spill, the City of Burlington released sewage into the Haw River which flows into Lake Jordan serving drinking water to Cary, Apex and Pittsboro. DENR allegedly did not release news of the spill to the public.

Late last year, Amy Adams, a senior DENR official, resigned to protest the massive cuts McCrory and Republican legislators were forcing at her department, notably in its water quality section.

McCrory’s been on a Ken Cuccinelli-style rip in other ways such as cutting back on unemployment benefits in a top manufacturing state badly hit by the recession and globalization. He’s shut down abortion clinics by suddenly raising the sanitation rules to hospital levels, much like former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell did in Virginia.

A reaction to McCrory is building, however. Recently, I chatted with Jason Thigpen who served in the Army and was wounded in Iraq in 2009. When Thigpen returned to his home in southeastern North Carolina, he was upset that the state was sticking it to vets by making them pay out-of-state college tuition in cases where some had been state residents before deploying. So, he started an activist group to protect them.

Next, Thigpen decided to run for Congress. His views fit more neatly with the Republican Party but he simply could not take what McCrory was doing in Raleigh so he became a Democrat and is a contender in a primary this spring.

Why the switch? “I just couldn’t see what the GOP was doing with my state in Raleigh,” He told me. “Also, I didn’t like what they were doing with women. I had served with women in war and they come back to North Carolina and they are treated like second class citizens,” he said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is still struggling with its drinking water issues from a spill near Charleston. Although drinking water for 300,000 is said to be potable, children are reporting rashes.

Somehow, this conjures up another story involving a Republican governor – Arch Moore.

Back in 1972, Moore was governor when Pittston, a Virginia-based energy firm, had badly sited and built some damns to hold coal waste. After torrential rains, the dams burst and a sea of filthy water raced down the hollows, inundating small villages and killing 125 people. The state wanted a $100 million settlement from Pittston for the Buffalo Creek disaster, but Moore interceded and they settled for a measly $1 million.

Moore was later convicted of five felonies after he was caught extorting $573,000 from a coal company that wanted to reduce its payments to a state fund that compensated miners who got black lung disease.

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

Meanwhile, we in Virginia should breathe a sigh of relief considering just close it was dodging the bullet last election.

Message to GOP: Shoe’s On The Other Foot

mcauliffeBy Peter Galuszka

Not three weeks ago, Newly elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe stood before the Virginia State Capitol and extolled a new era of bipartisanship in Richmond. It doesn’t seem to have lasted very long.

Whether by design or chance, a series of events have strengthened the state Democrats’ hand and terrified the Republicans who have dominated the agenda for the past four years.

Attorney General Mark Herring made the dramatic announcement that he would not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, saying it went against the U.S. Constitution.

McAuliffe partly sidestepped delegates from both parties who are proposing a toothless ethics reform in connection with the gifts scandal that led to the indictment of former GOP governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife. The new governor issued an executive order that forbids executive branch employees from accepting gifts of more than $100 and sets aside $100,000 for a State Ethics Commission that presumably would have true investigative power.

The latest news is that the Democrat won a special election for a state Senate seat that truly upsets the GOP’s apple cart. Not only do the Democrats now control the Senate, they have made a rule change that allows the chairman of the Rules Committee to kill bills that have been significantly altered by the House of Delegates. An example of such a bill is one in 2011 that would have addressed infections in hospitals but was turned by the House into a crackdown on abortion clinics.

McAuliffe and his team are now in a much better position to try to push ahead with the Medicaid expansion that conservative Republicans are fighting.

Naturally, there is much gnashing of teeth among GOP legislators, who claim the developments are “dangerous.” Herring’s move on gay marriage has prompted calls for his resignation. A bill to impeach him, supported by the Tea Party, is making the rounds.

My takeaway? Amusement. Not that long ago, the state was enduring hard-right attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal moves to advance his highly-politicized agenda, which didn’t have much to do with the needs of the state. Many of the very same conservative Republicans now screaming bloody murder worked hand and glove with Cuccinelli.

The shoe is on the other foot now.

A Sea By Any Other Name

seajapanBy Peter Galuszka

Pity Terry McAuliffe.

It’s hard to be a politician and trying to please everyone, especially when it comes to rivals Japan and South Korea.

The new governor promised Virginia’s large Korean community that he would move to have the state’s textbooks call what is commonly referred to as “the Sea of Japan” as “East Sea” as well.

Japanese, a major trading partner with the Old Dominion, like the former. Koreans, of course, like the latter, since “East” means, east of them. There are lots more people of Korean descent in Virginia than Japanese and they know how to pack a Senate gallery as they did in Richmond recently.

Now that he’s won the election, McAuliffe has to navigate the treacherous waters of both seas made stormy by centuries of East Asian bloodletting, war and colonization. This dispute has reached the highest levels and has become a diplomatic issue for the Embassy of Japan in Washington. According to The Washington Post, Japan is the second largest source of direct foreign investment and is a major export market. South Korea, less so.

Virginia always loses when it considers changing its textbook since its history is just as tortured as Japan’s or South Korea’s. It happened a few years back when a Connecticut-based history book writer claimed, falsely, that African-Americans fought for the South in significant numbers during the Civil War. That was fine with Sons of Confederate Veterans types because it makes the South seem not so bad. But African-Americans were a mite upset.

It’s hard to win with differing versions of history. My big memory is “Ukraine” versus “THE Ukraine.”

Back when the Soviet Union was breaking up I was either a news correspondent in Moscow or an editor in New York on the international desk handling news from that area. When the USSR fell apart, some Ukrainians, mostly in the western part of the country, wanted their country referred to as “Ukraine” instead of “the Ukraine.”

Why? Political etymology. Ukraine means “border” or “edge.” When you add “the” it makes it sound like “edge of what?”

The answer was Russia and centuries of Russian power, domination and imperialism. So, adding “the” makes it sound like Ukraine is the “edge” of Russia rather than its own important self. Another problem is that Russians like to diminish Ukrainians by calling them “Little Russians.” How patronizing! But then, lots of Ukrainian Communists, notably Nikita Khrushchev, made it big in Moscow

The problems are exacerbated when you deal with the diaspora of a particular country. When I was in Moscow in the 1980s, I often went to Ukraine. Same problems as Russia but there had been a lot of intermarriage especially in eastern Ukrainian cities like Kharkov. Not so in the west where Moscow was despised. In general, though, the tension level seemed low.

In the 1990s, I was back in Kiev. We had a stringer or freelance reporter there who spoke fluent Ukrainian and grew up in Canada. Lots of Ukrainians flocked to Canada after the Bolshevik Revolution and they set up an intensely ethnic support system. Our reporter had spent her childhood summers at Ukrainian kids camps in the Canadian wilds and became thoroughly indoctrinated in Ukrainian things. Or, rather, in what were Ukrainian things back in the 1920s.

So, I show up in Kiev and she wants me to meet a new-comer, a Canadian professor of Ukrainian descent who speaks the language. When he asked me where I was based, I said Moscow.

“That really pisses me off,” he said. “What are you, some kind of Russian imperialist? How do you think you can come here from Moscow and understand ANYTHING about Ukraine?

Good question.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!