A decade of online-only journalism in Fauquier

The late Cosmo and Zelda pose for one of FauquierNow’s early social media posts.

“It’ll never work,” a leading media business analyst told me in November 2010.

Sitting behind his desk at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rick Edmonds offered little hope for FauquierNow.com’s prospects.

An old dog trying to learn, I spent a week at Poynter’s immersive seminar, “Essential Skills for the Digital Journalist.”

Five years removed from the newspaper business, Ellen and I had begun scratching out a plan for a community news website wholly dependent upon local advertising for revenue — with no “paywall” or subscription fee.

Describing the plan in broad strokes, I gave Mr. Edmonds an overview of our community, its intense appetite for local news and the decline of local media, which The Great Recession had accelerated.

His analysis remained bleak.

Did Ellen and I really understand the challenges, which continued to devastate local news operations?

The following October, FauquierNow sputtered to life. And, despite our struggles, it quickly found an audience, which expanded steadily.

Advertisers also supported the fledgling website.

Sometimes, our news coverage really has made a difference. Sometimes, we have fallen short — mostly because of my weaknesses. But, FauquierNow survived and grew.

As months turned to years, our lives and priorities naturally changed.

The last 2-1/2 years have presented unique challenges, including my successful heart valve surgery — I’m in great health, thank you — and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, my 65th birthday grew close.

That milestone in the rearview mirror, my focus has turned to opportunities beyond four decades in local journalism.

I want to use my remaining time on this planet to become a better husband, brother, uncle, cousin, in-law, friend and human being. At times, I’ve neglected each of those responsibilities.

Spending more time outdoors, I want to thin the woods west of our house for a year-round view of my native Blue Ridge Mountains.

I want to again read books.

We want to travel.

Zoey and 4-month-old Zeus deserve more attention, more walks, more games of ball.

And, I need to spend less time hunched over a laptop computer, which has affected my posture, vision, attention span and mental health.

Journalism in Fauquier has given me opportunities I never imagined. Since moving here in May 1983, this place and its people have changed my life for the better.

I met and married Ellen here. Without her, I probably would reside in a cardboard box under a bridge.

We have lived and worked together more than 36 years. Her intelligence, good judgment, work ethic and passion for this community seldom get the attention Ellen deserves for making FauquierNow successful.

She has earned the chance to spend as much time as possible in her beloved garden.

We owe a lot to this place. And, I’ll try to better explain that in a future column.

But, today, I focus on those who built this website.

Matt Carson, Steve Sutherland and their staff at SiteWhirks in Warrenton wrote the code for Version 1.0 in 2011. They patiently held our hands as Ellen and I nervously learned about content management systems and social media.

Fresh out of Virginia Tech with a philosophy degree, Fauquier High graduate Mark Trible joined us at the launch as a part-time sports editor. Developing his journalistic chops, Mark helped build an audience and brought a younger perspective to our work.

As a freelancer, retired journalist David Lyne of Warrenton produced some of our best and earliest feature stories.

Steve Wheat, with whom we’d worked at The Fauquier Citizen back in the day, brought his considerable web design and graphic arts skills to the effort. Steve greatly refined our marketing, produced exceptional videos and redesigned the website a few years after its launch.

Cassandra Brown Anderson, a Liberty High and Bridgewater College graduate, produced hundreds of great stories and photos during almost seven years with us. From freelancer to key full-time staff member, Cassandra grew considerably as a journalist here.

Chuck Jackson picked up sports coverage after Mark’s departure for a newspaper job in New Jersey. Michelle Keen worked with us as an advertising sales representative, growing the business.

Another Fauquier native and Citizen veteran, Lindsey Lawrence Dengel designed the FauquierNow logo. A great friend and colleague, Lindsey continues to work closely with Ellen on advertising campaigns and other projects.

And, one of the best journalists ever to work in Fauquier, Don Del Rosso brought his high-energy reporting to the effort. Don and I had worked together at The Fauquier Democrat in the 1980s. He joined us as a founding staff member of The Fauquier Citizen, which we published from 1989 until its sale in January 2006.

That small group of people — all of whom have moved on to other jobs or retired (except the SiteWhirks guys) — helped prove Poynter analyst Edmonds wrong. He knows the business stone-cold at a macro scale, but I apparently did a poor job of explaining Fauquier’s exceptional qualities — and the opportunities they create — to Mr. Edmonds back in 2010.

Excluding federal Payroll Protection Program funds, local advertising has paid every dollar of salaries, benefits, rent, software, hosting, insurance and connectivity costs since FauquierNow’s launch.

Your tips, suggestions, criticism, questions, letters, news submissions and time spent on FauquierNow have made it possible for an independent, online-only news operation to prosper in this community.

You have proven the concept works.

Thank you.

The time for significant change has arrived, however. After a decade, FauquierNow needs a jolt of new enthusiasm and focus.

Fortunately for this community, the folks of Rappahannock Media will take the helm in January.

The new owners have the experience, resources and commitment to improve FauquierNow. Ellen and I will work closely with them to make the transition as smooth as possible.

That work will include helping to introduce and orient the people who take our places.

While we’ll leave the daily grind, Ellen and I still care deeply about Fauquier and its journalism. So, a step or two slower, I’ll probably do some freelance work for FauquierNow. And, Ellen needs to post some new recipes!

As our great friend David Noble Slye, whom we lost too soon this year, wrote at the end of each email and letter:

Always . . . .

Contact Editor “Lou” Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.