'It’s so horrific': What local journalists saw in Charlottesville

Alexis Gravely worked from home Friday night when she got a text from her editor. He thought something was about to happen.

Classes at the University of Virginia don't start until next week, and summer staffers for The Cavalier Daily wrapped up their work in early August. But last weekend, student journalists were there covering the White supremacist rally that ultimately ended in three deaths.

Tim Dodson, the managing editor, texted Gravely again. Things were getting creepy. He wanted her to come down.

Gravely, associate news editor, grabbed her camera and headed out.

They couldn't figure out where the crowd was until they saw she a group with unlit torches. The young reporters followed them to the march.

It was intimidating, scary almost, to see this happening on her campus, in the places she walks every day.

"I’m a Black woman," she said. "For me, it was even more so. I’m exactly what these people don’t like."

The next day, Gravely went with Dodson and two other reporters to cover the rally while Editor-in-Chief Mike Reingold worked to get stories up and share information on Twitter and Facebook.

They knew there was a potential for violence, Dodson said, "but I think all four of us were definitely surprised at what we saw."

They coughed and choked as they tried to stay on Facebook Live, chemical irritants drifting through the air. They used Twitter to share what they were seeing and get a sense of what people in other parts of town were experiencing.

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It wasn't just career journalists covering the fallout from the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville during the weekend. Reingold feels proud of his staff. And the student journalists aren't finished. Their first print issue of the new semester, which comes out Aug. 22, will look at effects of the rally, Reingold said.

"All of us are still trying to process all the things we saw and being there right in the middle of it," Gravely said. "It’s been a rough few days. For me, just knowing that people were glad to see our tweets and our videos and our articles and our pictures, it makes the fact that this is a harsh story a little bit easier. We know we had some sort of effect."

The timeline

Lisa Provence hadn't seen tear gas until she covered a July Ku Klux Klan event in Charlottesville. By last weekend, she knew what to listen and look for — the plunk of a canister hitting the ground, green or yellow gas pouring out. This weekend, she knew to move away quickly.

Staff at C-Ville, the alt-weekly, had a plan for covering Saturday's events. Five staffers, a freelance reporter and a freelance photographer, would be in different parts of the city, reporting what was happening and collecting details for a timeline.

They each followed the crowds they'd been assigned to.

"And then, we were all pretty much at Emancipation Park," said Provence, news editor.

They reported on Facebook Live and on Twitter, but everyone there was collecting stories and images for their timeline, which was published in print on Wednesday. They knew the daily newspaper would have the moment-to-moment covered. They wanted to take the time to pull back a bit on the weekend.

Not that they've had much time for that.

"We’ve been sort of in cranking-out-copy mode at the moment," Provence said. "I will look at footage or other people’s coverage, and it’s almost like you want to cry. It’s so horrific."

Even though they did all find each other in the same place on Saturday, the timeline shows what it was like in Charlottesville throughout the weekend. The juxtaposition of events, Provence said, is amazing.

"I think it’s going to give a really broad picture of what it was like here in Charlottesville that weekend."

'Catch up with me'

Wesley Hester picked Ryan Kelly up on Saturday as a crowd marched from the park to downtown. The editor of Charlottesville, Virginia's Daily Progress dropped the photographer off downtown and found a spot to park.

Hester caught up with Kelly. Together, they walked toward Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. It was hot already. Both men were sweating. When they passed a CVS, Hester headed inside to grab a couple Gatorades.

"He said, 'OK, I'll keep walking,'" Hester said. "'Catch up with me.'"

As he paid for the orange and grape Gatorades, Hester learned that the "Unite the Right" rally and counter-protests had turned deadly. Someone plowed the crowd with a car. Hester ran outside and found Kelly staring at his camera. They weren't thinking, then, about the image that so much of the world now knows from Charlottesville.

They got back to work.

A little later, the two stopped in a quiet spot to check what Kelly had captured.

"We discussed whether or not we'd even use it, to be honest, but we thought it was important that we do something with it," Hester said.

Charlottesville's newspaper has a staff of less than 30 (with two photographers and six news reporters) but they knew the rally might turn ugly. They felt ready. But they couldn't be ready for what happened, Hester said.

Since then, newsrooms are calling and sending food. They've had pizza for four days straight, he said.

"I'm asking people to send doughnuts or bagels," he said.

Saturday was Kelly's last day at the Daily Progress. On Monday, he started a new job running social media for a brewery in Richmond.

But he's not leaving journalism entirely. The photojournalist, who was in the street moments before the car hit and killed Heather Heyer, plans to keep freelancing.

The move will allow Kelly and his wife to move the city where she works. He'll have a flexible schedule now and way less stress. He's looking forward to telling the stories of the brewery.

Kelly drove to Richmond from Charlottesville on Monday. He walked through the tap room. Brewers sat out back, peeling sweet potatoes.

"It is very bizarre right now to be sitting in a cushy office, talking about websites and calendars and beer promotions when 48 hours ago I was in the middle of the biggest news story I've ever covered in my career," he said. "I would die a happy man if I never witness anything like I saw on Saturday."

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