Charlottesville Breaking News

The Hook in review: 12 years of covering Charlottesville

The first issue of the Hook hit the streets February 7, 2002, in an America still reeling in post-9/11 shock— not quite sure how our world would change, but with an uneasy feeling that it would not be for the better.

In Charlottesville, the Downtown Mall had not yet had its Pavilion or Transit Center built on the east end. The Meadow Creek Parkway was still under debate, and the U.S. 29 Western Bypass was believed dead and buried. The old Woolen Mills dam still stood, the Jefferson Theater was a second-run movie house, and the Paramount Theater was in the throes of a lengthy restoration.

And a handful of writers, graphic designers, ad reps, and photographers followed editor Hawes Spencer to start a new weekly in a small town that already had a weekly on what would become Mr. Hook's wild ride.

2002

Charlottesville's Democratic rule was rocked with the election of Rob Schilling, the first Republican city councilor in 16 years, and the words "single-shot" voting entered the local lexicon. Environmentally, the region was parched by a drought. By September, restaurants were serving on plastic, car washes were ordered to close and reservoirs were half full, with predictions they'd be empty by December. Fortunately it rained, but this stark, water-less reality had a lot to do with the subsequent water wars of the aughts and the construction of the Ragged Mountain reservo...

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First and last days at the Hook

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The Award-winning Hook

Earlier this year, the Hook won the state's top journalism award for its coverage of the attempted ouster of UVA President Teresa Sullivan last year. It is the third time the Hook has won the coveted prize for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service, given to only two newspapers every year at the Virginia Press Association's annual award ceremony.

“Aggressive inquisitiveness beyond a daily’s or even a weekly’s normal scope produced unusual facets of the story that went uncovered by other news outlets," said the judge's statement. "This includes pursuit of angles that, while risky, opened the aperture for the audience."

In 2006, the Hook won the top prize for a package of unrelated stories, including the "12-step" rape apology case, the shooting of a pet cat, and for the coverage, penned mostly by Lisa Provence, of the so-called "school bombing plot," which a VPA judge lauded as our "shining crown jewel."

In 2008, the top award came as the result of our coverage of the controversial water proposal plan, penned mostly by former Hook editor and founder Hawes Spencer.

Since 2003, the Hook staff has won a total of 149 VPA awards. Not bad.


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Digging deeper: On becoming a Hook reporter

One of the first stories I wrote as a full-time employee for the Hook in 2005 was about the planned renovation of a Downtown park. I spoke to advocates of the renovation, city parks and rec officials, the architects, local residents, and cranked out a piece you'd find in hundreds of small community papers. I was happy with what I wrote. It was good, solid reporting about a community project, and I'd spoken to everyone involved. But after my editor, Hawes Spencer, read the piece, he looked forlorn sitting at his desk— hurt even— as if someone had just given him some bad news he was trying to process.

"A million dollars?" he said, stating the price of the planned renovation of the park, made up of a combination of city funds and private donations. "That park doesn't even need to be renovated."

Indeed, I had lived near the park for years, had played with my kids there when they were young, and my oldest son and I had carved our names in a beautiful old tree, one that would come down with the renovation, along with many others. It was a classic old park with great tree cover, a wonderful steel merry-go-round, room to run around, and a basketball court. The new design would fell over a dozen trees, add designer play structures called "spicas," include a "weeping" water wall, and a round basketball court.

"Can you dig a little deeper here?" Spencer asked. "This reads like a press release."

I understood what he meant imme...

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What they say about the Hook

Since its inception, the Hook has shone a spotlight into the darkest corners of our community, forcing us to confront issues that most would just as soon ignore. This unwavering commitment to telling the truth, no matter how unpopular or difficult, is what George Orwell considered a revolutionary act, and we have been blessed to have revolutionaries among us such as Hawes Spencer, Lisa Provence, Courteney Stuart and Dave McNair. We are better off because the Hook called the county to task for installing red light cameras that do little for safety while fattening the government’s coffers. They questioned the mindset behind police shootings of unarmed citizens, ABC raids of college students buying bottled water, and lockdowns of residential streets. And they reminded us of the incongruities of using an assault team of 10 agents to raid a 39-acre farm, supposedly because a military helicopter spotted a solitary marijuana plant growing wild in a yard. Without a doubt, Charlottesville will be worse off for the Hook’s absence. My only hope is that those remaining outposts of freedom in this town— both activists and journalists— will continue to call for transparency and accountability and keep a small...

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