Saturday, July 30, 2011

Richmond Times-Dispatch cuts 20 jobs ... releases veteran reporter Tyler Whitley

Hard times continue for the hard copy media industry with the recent news that the Richmond Times-Dispatch, owned by Media General, has cut 20 jobs.

Sadly, veteran political reporter Tyler Whitley was one of the twenty.

An icon on the Richmond scene and a Virginia native, his career began in 1960 as an obituary writer at the Richmond News Leader where he worked his way up to business editor. He moved into political coverage and, when the News Leader merged with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he continued, becoming the "dean" of the Virginia capitol press corps. He wrote about the Virginia General Assembly for 40 years and covered nine governors including Bob McDonnell, fourteen national political conventions, and four redistrictings. Assignments throughout the years took him to ten countries.

I first met Mr. Whitley in February 2000 while working the George W. Bush for President campaign in Richmond. On the Saturday before the presidential primary day, an event was held at campaign headquarters with Texas Governor/U.S. presidential candidate Bush, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, Lt. Governor John Hager, and U.S. Senate candidate and former Governor George Allen.

I was in charge of credentialing the press and that was the first time I met Tyler Whitley in person.  Although I grew up in Richmond, I wasn't particularly political in my youth and had spent a decade out of state so did not know who he was and asked for his name to write on his credentials. He looked at me for a few seconds and then very calmly and patiently stated his name.

The look stuck with me. It wasn't mean or condescending ... it was more like someone who was so used to people knowing who he was that it was surprising to run into someone who didn't. Later inside headquarters, I asked some of my fellow Bush volunteers, "Who is Tyler Whitley?" I soon found out ... and never again forgot.

In the years since, he and I have often crossed paths. Even though I realize he doesn't know who I am, I always say hello and sometimes we chat a bit, especially during the trip to Minneapolis in 2008 for the Republican National Convention.

During that trip when the Virginia delegation was gathered one evening for an informal cocktail party, he and long-time Virginia Republican activist Trixie Averill started talking about a political event years earlier that took place in southwest Virginia.

It was in Gate City in 1993 at a picnic Trixie helped organized with Jerry Kilgore who was in grassroots leadership at the time. Trixie, her arms full as she hauled supplies from her car, was headed down a pathway toward the picnic shelter when she saw a "stick" across the trail. Just as her foot was stepping over the "stick," it moved ... and slithered right in front of her.

Trixie screamed, the supplies flew up in the air, and -- as Trixie remembers -- she darn near had a heart attack as she ran to safety.

"Tyler was right behind me cracking up," Trixie, who is now Virginia Director of Americans for Prosperity, recalled recently, "but a few ladies who were down at the shelter and heard me scream were more sympathetic. Tyler wrote a very edited down version of what happened in his article the next day about George Allen's trip to southwest Virginia and has never let me live it down since."

Hearing those two reminiscence about the snake story that night in Minneapolis had us all laughing until our sides hurt. It was but one of the thousands of memories from Whitley's years covering Virginia politics.

Whitley celebrated his 50th anniversary as a reporter in December 2010. At a time when the mainstays of media communication are being reinvented almost on a daily basis and when reporters carry iPhones, Blackberries, laptops, use Twitter and every other means of new media, Whitley has found himself surrounded by citizen journalists aka bloggers who are competing for the story. It didn't deter him as he went about his job.

I would like to say congratulations to Mr. Whitley for 50+ years of journalism ... and thanks for the memories.

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