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From the Editor: A Magazine Approach to Covering Tragedy

Before media studies came into being at the University of Virginia, if you wanted to learn journalism, you needed to know where to look. You needed someone to tip you to a class in the English department called News Magazine.

Richard Gard

Champ Clark taught it. He came to Grounds from nearly 25 years at Time magazine, during the golden era, where he had the sometimes-overlapping titles of bureau chief, senior editor and senior correspondent.

He taught the craft of magazine journalism as Time then practiced it, with reporting and writing divided into separate enterprises. Correspondents in the field sent copious dispatches to New York, where the writers would take over, shaping reams of far-flung accounts into magazine pieces. Clark put us in the role of those writers. He’d return from his New York trips with fistfuls of correspondents’ files and hand them to us to weave into narratives.

That’s essentially how we produced this issue’s series of reports on the Nov. 13 tragedy. Diverging from our standard practice, we separated the writing from the reporting. With the hurt still fresh—individuals and the community continuing to heal—and the criminal investigation and an external review getting underway, we adopted some constraints for this first round of coverage. We held off from approaching the survivors of the shooting, the families of the victims or others likely to figure prominently in those outside inquiries.

Instead, we drew largely from news reports, video streams, live events, available documents and what we could piece together on our own. We treated that considerable and still-growing body of information as correspondents’ files. We concentrated our efforts on putting it all into context, the explanatory part of our mission.

We worked to produce a series of narratives that seek to answer a set of basic questions: What happened that night? (See “The Night Of”.) What sequence of events came before and after? (See “Before, During and Aftermath”.) What was it like on Grounds during the manhunt’s 12-hour lockdown? (See “12 Hours in the Dark”.) And who were these young men so senselessly slain? (See “The Joy, the Love, the Light”.)

As important, we wanted to convey the magnitude of the University community’s response to the horror and the grief. That part of the story goes beyond words. Print readers will see it went beyond the standard dimensions of this magazine. We couldn’t merely describe that to you. We had to show you, through the power of photography, including a double foldout to present the full panorama of emotion and sense of community.

We endeavored to play to the strength of the magazine medium, to synthesize a swirl of unnerving events into a self-contained and coherent package of words and images. During Champ Clark’s storied tenure at Time, the magazine used the slogan, “Take Time to Understand.” We hope we’ve helped you do that.

Richard Gard (Col ’81)
Vice President, Communications, UVA Alumni Association