We launched Cardinal News because we knew there were stories in Southwest and Southside Virginia that were going uncovered.
Here are some of the ones we’ve covered in the three months since we took flight in late September.
We are the only news organization from this part of the state with a full-time political reporter – one who happens to be based in the state capital. When the Redistricting Commission was debating its plans, we were the only news organization to focus on what those maps would mean for Southwest and Southside, which meant we were the only one to report on how Lynchburg would have been split between two congressional districts – with that split running right through the city’s predominantly Black neighborhood. While we can’t claim credit for those maps being withdrawn, we can say that after Markus Schmidt reported this split, and the furor it created, those maps were withdrawn. Accordingly, when the special masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court released their plans, we were the only news organization to focus on how those districts looked in Southwest and Southside. Markus has also spent time reporting on other issues uniquely important to this part of Virginia – broadband, school construction and why three health districts in Southwest Virginia still have no permanent director.
We’re reported on how the economy in this part of the state is changing, and how some would like to see it change.
Megan Schnabel has written about the biggest economic development announcement in this part of Virginia since records started being kept – a medical glove factory coming to Wythe County that will employ 2,500. She’s also written about a Tazewell County welding company that is transitioning from work for the coal industry to work in the renewable energy sector, how farmers in three Southwest counties – Lee, Scott and Washington – are transitioning to barley to serve the craft beer industry. She’s written a study that looks into whether Southwest Virginia could become a center for wind turbine manufacturing and how some high-tech labs are coming to the Roanoke and New River valleys, as those communities strengthen their life sciences sector.
Sarah Wade has written about a graphene lab in Wise County. Amy Trent has written about how Danville is trying to establish itself as a center for advanced manufacturing, and how that training starts in school. She’s also written about how the Tobacco Commission is paying off the student debts of people who agree to move to counties in its footprint and fill certain in-demand jobs, a program that some in the General Assembly would like to see expanded. Lindley Estes has written about how The Harvest Foundation in Martinsville has made a bold, generational bet to pay for students in Martinsville and Henry County to attend community college – for the next 13 years. Brian Funk has written about a pilot program for broadband in Grayson County that has even attracted the interest of Facebook. I’ve written about the changing demographics of rural Virginia, and what might change them even more.
We’ve told other stories, too. In late August, a flood ravaged the town of Hurley in Buchanan County, but that flood drew little attention outside the area. Megan reported on how months after the flood, some people there are still living in trailers. Amy has written about how the LaHaye Ice Center at Liberty University has helped create an “ice culture” of ice sports in Lynchburg. Shannon Watkins has written about how more than 10,000 Afghan refugees have passed through Fort Pickett in Nottoway County and what effect that’s had on the community. Sarah has written about how Abingdon has won a national award for its restaurant scene. And, yes, we also reported on how armadillos are now showing up in Southwest Virginia.
We set out to cover Southwest and Southside Virginia and hoped others would notice. We’ve been amazed – absolutely amazed – at how many readers we’re attracting outside our region. On many days our second biggest group of readers is in Richmond, the third biggest in Northern Virginia. Through our journalism, we are helping to shape – and in some cases perhaps re-shape – people’s impressions of Southwest and Southside. We often get notes like this one from a Richmond-area political figure: “I really like what you’re doing with Cardinal News . . . We need the emphasis on rural Virginia. Keep it up!” We’ve seen our work recognized in other ways, too. We’re one of just 30 news organizations around the country accepted into a reader revenue accelerator program sponsored by Meta, the parent company of Facebook. And this month the Danville Regional Foundation generously awarded us a $300,000 grant over three years that will enable us to expand by hiring a journalist based in Danville to cover the economic rebirth of that region.
We started Cardinal News with a certain amount of faith: We began with eight donors. We also set out on a public broadcasting model: We put up no paywall, we sell no advertising. We rely entirely on donations. Since then, we’ve seen people from around the region – and around the state and, in a few cases, outside the state – offer their generous support. As we approach the year’s end, we now have hundreds of donors; you can see the full list here. We promised readers complete transparency about who’s funding us and there it is. As a nonprofit that operates virtually, we pay no shareholders, and no landlords. Every dollar goes straight to supporting more journalism. When we began last week, we had 100 supporters who had signed up for recurring monthly donations. As part of our year-end fund drive, we set a goal of raising that to 150, and are well on our way toward hitting that goal. You can help us create more journalism for and about Southwest and Southside; here’s how. We can’t do this without you.