Tim Dodson’s photo of the tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists on the U.Va. campus Friday night. (Courtesy of Tim Dodson, Cavalier Daily)
Editor’s Note: I wanted to take a look at the events of Charlottesville for the blog, but I wanted to look at it through the eyes of the student media. Far too often, student media gets the cruddy end of the stick or just gets ignored, so I went to the website for the student newspaper at the University of Virginia to see if anyone wrote a story on the topic. I was blown away by the overall coverage here in terms of quantity, quality and depth from the Cavalier Daily. The use of video, social media, text, links to previous work and photography was beyond what most local publications could handle. They “flooded the zone,” to borrow a phrase.
These are just a few of the stories the Cav Daily published:
- Torch-wielding white nationalists march at U.Va.
- One dead, 19 injured after car plows into counter-protesters
- “Unite the Right” rally, protests turn deadly
- Protesters chase Kessler away from press conference
I reached out to Tim Dodson, the managing editor of the Cavalier Daily on U.Va.’s campus, who was gracious enough to talk to me about all of this. He wanted to make sure I understood that he wasn’t the only one on staff working the story: Senior Associate News Editor Alexis Gravely, News Editor Anna Higgins and Senior Writer Daniel Hoerauf comprised the team that produced this incredible work. EIC Mike Reingold was chipping in as well, aggregating his staffers’ social media posts and flowing them through the Cav Daily’s formal social media channels. Opinion writers were building additional pieces and others were also adding what they could from wherever they were while still on summer break. As much as I knew I would end up telling this story through Tim’s eyes because he was my main source, he clarified at every turn that it was NOT “his reporting” or “his work” but that of the whole staff. So, if that doesn’t always come through in the writing, you should blame me, not him.
In going back through the notes of a more than hour-long interview, there is no way to do this well in one giant chunk, so I’m splitting it up across several posts on the next few days. In the mean time, here’s the first chunk of the story. Corrections and tweaks are likely necessary and gratefully received.
Corrections: Date of Tim’s election to news editor has been fixed and clarification on who was covering which events on which days has been added. Keep ’em coming if I messed up.
Two days before his 21st birthday, Tim Dodson found himself working with a small group of journalists from the student newspaper at U.Va. to cover the chaotic events in Charlottesville.
“I think we all knew there was a potential for violence,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think anyone was expecting to see everything that unfolded.”
The national media kept a wary eye on this city of nearly 47,000 as white supremacists, the alt-right and other hate groups gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally on Friday. Dodson, the managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, was part of a skeleton crew of staffers that planned to cover the event that was happening on U.Va.’s front doorstep. Aside from his position at the paper, Dodson had another reason to care about the weekend’s events: Charlottesville was his hometown.
“I’ve grown up here this is my hometown,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m in no way making light of anything that happened Friday but in some ways, it felt like I was in one those “Purge” movies because of all the stuff that was going on.”
Dodson graduated in 2015 from Western Albemarle High School, where he worked on the student newspaper (“It wasn’t this hard core,” he said. “I didn’t do any breaking news.”) before he enrolled at U.Va. He found out about the Cav Daily while attending a student organization fair and became a reporter on staff. He was then elected as one of two news editors in December 2016. A year later, he was elected managing editor and his 20-30 hours per week at the paper surged to 30+ hours as he helped the editor in chief oversee the publication’s operation.
During this summer, he was on his second internship at Charlottesville Tomorrow, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization focused on covering quality of life issues in the area, and his weekend gig at News Talk 107.5 WCHV, a local radio station. Thanks to the flexibility of his various bosses, he was able to work with the Cav Daily staff on the “Unite the Right” events.
“I’m honored and blessed that my bosses have been really good about flexibility with me,” he said. “We are in a period where nobody is formally writing things (for the Cav Daily) so several of us were really trying to figure out who is in town and how we could get all hands on deck for this.”
Dodson said he went to the Cav Daily office on Friday night after working one of his other media gigs to await a court ruling regarding the event. The city tried to force the group of white supremacists to a different location, but the group sued the city and got an injunction. As Dodson awaited a court’s decision on how all this would shake out, he got several texts from people he knew saying the white supremacists would be holding a rally at the rotunda, which is right in the middle of campus.
“I have no photo skills, but I grabbed a camera and headed over there,” he said. “I found two other reporters and we were all walking around together. Then we start getting pictures of people lighting tiki torches and walking around on campus… I called the other members of the staff and said, ‘How quickly can you get over here?'”
Staffers Alexis Gravel and Daniel Hoerauf arrived and everyone threw themselves into the mix, even as people were twirling torches and chanting. (News Editor Anna Higgins joined the group on Saturday as the team covered the events downtown.) Dodson said the staff members were not only working on telling stories but also watching out for each other as mob’s frenzy grew.
“I was looking down on (the crowd) from a balcony area and if there’s one word for it, it would be chaotic…” he said. “We knew there was a high potential for violence and we knew it was going to be a mess the next day.”
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