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Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam answers reporters’ questions at Amazon announcement in Pentagon City in 2018 (file photo)

Proposed legislation from Del. Alfonso Lopez that would support local journalism has withered away without bipartisan support.

HB 1217 would have provided up to $5 million annually in income tax credits to eligible news outlets that employ local journalists and up to $10 million annually in income tax credits to businesses that advertise with these outlets.

The newspaper industry has seen a slow decline over the last two decades — as documented on CBS’s 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

The decay of local newspapers is driven in large part by a loss in advertising revenue as classifieds have moved to services like Craigslist and other ads have migrated online to Facebook, Google and other large platforms. In recent years, hedge funds and private equity firms have further squeezed local news by acquiring hundreds of newspapers and slashing costs — which has boosted profitability but led to additional layoffs.

In the past year, however, there’s been a push to enact federal policy to stop this trend, and the activity at the federal level has sparked state-level bills.

Lopez’s bill died this legislative session during a finance subcommittee meeting, with six Republicans voting against it and three Democrats voting for it. While the Arlington Democrat said the objections didn’t seem related to spending, he didn’t offer further theories about why it failed.

Lopez said he intends to keep applying pressure until this measure is adopted.

“I think we need local journalists to keep our constituents informed of what’s happening at the local level,” he tells ARLnow. “I’m going to bring this bill back every year until it becomes a law in the Commonwealth.”

The bill makes business sense because it would encourage ad revenue, which pays the salaries of local journalists, according to Lopez. It’s also good for democracy, he said, as areas without local coverage tend to have more government and small business corruption and see lower local election turnout.

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says it’s unfortunate the bill was killed.

“VPA supported this bill because it would have helped local newspapers through income tax credits,” she said. “While we did not work with Delegate Lopez in drafting this bill — we support what he was trying to do to help local news.”

Lopez modeled his bill on the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which effectively died when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) withdrew his support.

The LJSA was the fruit of advocacy by the Rebuild Local News coalition, coordinated by Steve Waldman, the founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.

“It became clear to me that, in addition to improved business models and greater philanthropy, the crisis is so severe, and the threat to democracy so urgent, that we needed better public policy,” he tells ARLnow.

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Board Chair Katie Cristol during the Tuesday, Feb. 15 County Board meeting (via Arlington County)

(Updated 3:45 p.m. on 2/22/22) A typo in a recent public hearing notice has had some larger consequences for Arlington County.

The error — an incorrect date printed on posters around town — also sparked a County Board discussion yesterday (Tuesday) about finding more effective ways to communicate with residents about upcoming hearings and projects.

This is a recurring conversation for Board members, who have now critiqued the county engagement processes for being neither penetrative nor inclusive enough.

Currently, the county posts signs at and near near the sites of future land-use projects, per its zoning ordinances. It also prints advertisements in the Washington Times newspaper to meet state public notice laws.

The fliers posted this time around bore the wrong date: Feb. 19, or this Saturday, instead of Feb. 12, when the County Board actually met.

As a result, most of the hearing items impacted — including plans for a church moving to Ballston, a new daycare coming near Clarendon and a private school opening in a church near Crystal City — will be rescheduled for a meeting on Saturday, March 19.

A hearing for the Marbella Apartments, a forthcoming affordable housing project near Rosslyn, will be heard at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. so that the project can meet an early March deadline to receive tax credits from Virginia Housing.

Those who spoke at the Saturday meeting will have their comments entered and don’t need to return, officials said.

“Unfortunately, [for] this error — which anyone can make an error like that — we didn’t have redundancy, which is something we’re going to address immediately,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “We’re going to be immediately improving our process to address this.”

Only one person reviewed the dates before the printed placards went out, he said. The newspaper advertisement, meanwhile, had the correct date, but County Board members mused about whether putting legal notices in the Washington Times, a conservative daily newspaper with a circulation around 50,000 in the D.C. area, is effective.

“This invites the question of not just ‘What went wrong here?’ but ‘What could go better in the future?'” Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Many have long decried our practice of advertising in the Washington Times, given its relatively low circulation in the county. While it meets the legal requirements, it doesn’t necessarily meet the spirit of broad notice.”

In Arlington, Board Chair Katie Cristol said, the challenge is that the county can choose broad circulation and additional expense with the Washington Post or low prices with the Washington Times.

She said she “would love” to advertise with an online news source, but state law mandates that such notices be placed in print publications.

“We have at least one of those where a lot of Arlingtonians get their news,” Cristol said. “We are constrained by state code from doing that — and some very effective lobbying from what I understand is the Virginia print industry, which is very interested in keeping that requirement the same.”

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says the current system “works very well for the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

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Morning Notes

Hanukkah Safety Reminders — “Happy Hanukkah from the ACFD. During this special time, please remember a few safety tips. 1 – Battery powered candles are a safer choice to open-flame candles. 2 – Never leave lit candles unattended. 3 – Keep lit candles away from items that can easily catch fire.” [Twitter]

Trail Detours Start Tomorrow — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “Wednesday – Friday: Expect marked detours along Lucky Run Trail due to maintenance work, weather-permitting.” [Twitter]

Road Closures for 5K Race — “The Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell 5k Run/Walk for Arthritis will be held on Saturday, December 4, 2021. The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closure from approximately 6:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. to accommodate the event: S. Joyce Street, between 15th Street S. and Army Navy Drive.” [ACPD]

Drama at Rosslyn-Based Politico — “Politico is known for its wildly popular Playbook newsletter, its vast reporting talent pool, and its success as the most widely recognized Beltway-centric publication. But behind the flashy exterior, billion-dollar sale, and massive draw of their star reporters lies a series of burgeoning newsroom conflicts. From personnel issues, including complaints about internal ‘woke police,’ to a divisive unionization drive, to increasing competition in the profitable D.C. newsletter space, tensions appear to be growing.” [Daily Beast]

Mild Start to December on Tap — “NOAA’s 6-10 [day], 8-14 [day] and 3-4 [week] outlooks all toasty for large parts of the Lower 48. Not a great look for big winter storms or sustained cold although confidence in mild pattern decreases by mid-December.” [Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

Spotted This Morning: FlurriesUpdated at 8:50 a.m. — We spotted very light snow falling in North Arlington around 8 a.m. today. The local National Weather Service office says these were the first flakes of the season and more flurries are possible this morning. [Twitter]

It’s Tuesday — Today will be partly sunny, with a high near 49. South wind 6 to 8 mph. Sunrise at 7:07 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Tomorrow there is a chance of showers after 1 p.m., but otherwise it will be partly sunny, with a high near 50. [Weather.gov]

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Rosslyn-based media company Politico is being acquired by the German publishing conglomerate Axel Springer.

The deal is worth around $1 billion, according to initial reports as the news broke this morning.

Politico was founded in 2007 in Rosslyn, in the same office tower at 1000 Wilson Blvd as its former sister outlet, local ABC station WJLA. The station was sold in 2013.

Axel Springer says the addition of Politico to its U.S. digital media holdings, including Insider (formerly Business Insider) and Morning Brew, will add to its growing reach.

Politico started out as primarily a Capitol Hill newspaper, competing with the likes of The Hill (which also recently sold) and Roll Call — complete with newspaper boxes offering free copies around Arlington and D.C. Metro stations — but has since grown a large, mainstream audience for its online political coverage. It also generates substantial revenue from a high-end subscription service called Politico Pro.

Arlington is home to a number of other media companies, including Washington Business Journal, Graham Holdings, Salem Radio Network, Washington Free Beacon and Townhall Media, all in Rosslyn.

Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, along with colleagues Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, broke with owner Robert Allbritton in 2016 and founded a competing publication, Axios, which is based in Clarendon. PBS has its headquarters in Crystal City, while local public broadcasting station WETA, along with the PBS Newshour, which it produces, are based in Shirlington. ARLnow and its sister sites ALXnow, Tysons Reporter and Reston Now are based in Ballston.

Axios, meanwhile, has previously been discussed as a possible acquisition target for Axel Springer.

More on the sale of Politico, below, from a press release.

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Arlington County Board Communications Manager Mary Curtius was a journalist when the reporters wrote drunk and sometimes edited sober, and when the editors ashed their cigarettes on reporters’ desks if they were lucky.

She started writing when “cut-and-paste” literally meant cutting sections of type out and sticking paragraphs together with rubber cement glue.

“We probably went home high every day, we were inhaling so much rubber cement,” she said. (On that note, the photographers, stuck in dark rooms all day, were probably loopy from the developer and fixer chemicals.)

Curtius reported from Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Capitol Hill. She was the Middle East bureau chief for the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor. She covered Congress for the LA Times and before that was the paper’s National Security Editor. To have more time with her kids, she switched tracks 11 years ago and started handling communications for Arlington County.

Today is Curtius’ last day as Communications Manager for the County Board before she retires. After five decades of working — she started cleaning homes at 13 — she says she looks forward to visiting friends and family now that she is fully vaccinated, traveling and volunteering. And rest. She looks forward to rest.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say they never had a bad job and never got to do anything fun,” she said. “I’m lucky. I’m really lucky. It’s been a great ride.”

And sometimes, the ride was dangerous. She remembers taking a road trip out of Jerusalem with two male reporters, and when she got into the car, she saw they were working through a bottle of whisky. The two polished it off over the five-hour drive.

“It was completely terrifying,” she said. “That was how they lived… I was always ‘the good girl.'”

She had to be, to get ahead in a male-dominated field.

But her distinguished journalism career took a toll on her family life. So Curtius joined the county 11 years ago to be home more with her kids. During her tenure, Curtius said the changing media landscape and the dawn of social media caused her job to morph too. She has been part of a few major crises — Snowmageddon and the Derecho storm and now the coronavirus — and has helped Arlington prepare for Amazon’s arrival.

“It was a great job,” she said. “It’s a great county — God’s truth — it’s a great county. It was an amazing experience to be doing something that directly related to my community.”

Curtius remembers spending 18 months documenting how Arlington transformed from a sleepy town to a bedroom community for Pentagon workers to a bustling metropolitan area. She found all the Board members and county managers who were still alive and put together plans in the 60s and 70s to accommodate the Metro and concentrate development around stations.

“That video captured the ‘Greatest Generation’ — people who had these ideas and laid the foundation of modern Arlington,” she said. “I really enjoyed meeting those people. Almost all of them are dead now.”

Over the last decade, she said local media coverage has waned. Before joining the County Board in 2006, she said TV stations would set up cameras to get clips from County Board meetings. No longer, except for major news like Amazon’s arrival.

“It seems incredible to think about that,” she said.

Since then, the Washington Post has pulled back on local coverage, and there are not as many news outlets focused on county government — the Sun Gazette and present company excluded, she added.

“Of course, it is happening across the country,” she said. “It’s really distressing, just as a reporter, that there’s not a lot of local coverage.”

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Morning Notes

Cristol Recovering from Surgery — County Board member Katie Cristol was absent from this week’s Board meeting. She is on medical leave after surgery to treat Graves’ disease, she said. [Twitter]

Axios Makes Local News Moves — Clarendon-based media company Axios has purchased North Carolina-based Charlotte Agenda as it makes a push into local news. [New York Times]

Board Balks at Preservation Request — “Efforts to place the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road into a local historic district appear to have pushed the property owner to move forward with the ‘nuclear option‘… And, county officials say, there is not much they can do to prevent it. ‘Our hands are pretty much tied,’ County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said Dec. 12, effectively rebuffing a request that the county government take stronger actions.” [InsideNova]

Board Responds to Reopening Request — “A request that Arlington County Board members use their influence – whether through sweet-talking or something more forceful – to get county schools back up and running fell largely on deaf ears Dec. 12. Board members said they were working with their School Board counterparts, but had no power to force a reopening of schools that have been shuttered since last March.” [InsideNova]

Local Nonprofit Expands Aid — “Since April of this year [Arlington] Thrive has provided more than $5 million is assistance to 1,300 families and individuals, a dramatic increase from the $805,000 Thrive provided to families and individuals during the same period last year. Typical requests to Arlington Thrive used to be for one or two months rent but since the pandemic now extend to six or seven months.” [Press Release]

Church Continues Drive-Thru Donations — “Clarendon Presbyterian Church recently announced that it will continue holding monthly Drive-thru Food and Toiletry Collections to support our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Since the first Collection in June through the most recent one in December, the community donated the equivalent of 756 brown paper bags of groceries – an estimated value of $30,000.” [Press Release]

Northam Proposes State Budget — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed a state budget that would restore some spending frozen earlier this year amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, updating a spending document that the General Assembly just finished tinkering with last month.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Death of WeLive? — “WeWork is exploring ending its push into communal living, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The New York-based office-sharing company is working with an adviser and holding talks about handing over operations of its WeLive location in Crystal City, near Washington D.C.” [Bloomberg]

No Fair This Summer? — “Whether the Arlington County Fair will be held as scheduled in August, and how it might change due to the impacts of COVID-19, remain an open question. ‘We continue to closely monitor the evolving situation and are committed to following the facts and recommendations provided by public-health officials,’ organizers of the fair said.” [InsideNova]

School Decision Expected by July 4 — “Arlington students, parents and teachers should know by the 4th of July what the county school system’s plan is for re-starting classes in the fall. In-person classroom instruction ‘is the goal we want to get to,’ new Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on June 4, but he was not ready to commit to having students back in class when the school year begins Aug. 31.” [InsideNova]

Gyms CrossFit Weigh in on Founder’s Comments — Since the founder of CrossFit posted a controversial tweet, CrossFit gyms across the country — including in Arlington — have been posting statements to distance themselves from him. Greg Glassman has since resigned as the CEO of CrossFit. [Instagram, Instagram]

Local Nordstrom Stores Reopening Tomorrow — “Arlington residents hoping for a little retail therapy will soon have their desires granted, at least as far as one local clothing chain is concerned. The Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores in Pentagon City will reopen for customers on Thursday, according to a company release.” [Patch]

Axios Covering Fees for Protesting Employees — “Arlington County-based digital media company Axios distributed a companywide email stating that it would cover bail or medical bills for employees who have participated in recent protests associated with the police killing of George Floyd, The New York Times first reported Tuesday.” [Virginia Business]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Amazon Not Giving Up on HQ2 Helipad — “The list of nongovernmental aircraft the Transportation Security Administration permits to fly inside the [Flight Restricted Zone], besides commercial fights to and from Reagan National, is basically nonexistent… In a statement, Amazon suggested it hasn’t given up. ‘We recognize there are several layers of approval for such a feature, and will continue to work with Arlington County and other relevant stakeholders as we determine its feasibility for our Arlington HQ,” the statement read.” [Washington Business Journal]

Pentagon Helipad to Get New Tower — “The Department of Defense has designs on building a permanent air traffic control tower to help guide aircraft landing at the Pentagon and is seeking a contractor to carry them out.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Concerned About Peak Trail Usage — “We’ve noticed the trails are pretty crowded between 3pm-6pm. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, we suggest finding a less busy time to walk, bike, or run on the trails or to find an alternate route.” [Twitter]

Mexicali Blues Closed, For Now — Clarendon mainstay Mexicali Blues has shut down its carryout business and is closing temporarily. [Twitter]

Candidate Blasts County’s Coronavirus Response — “Audrey Clement, who has been running campaigns for elected office for more than a decade, said last week that the County Board failed to use its powers to force restaurants to close in the earliest days of the crisis.” [InsideNova]

Va. Senators Seek Local News Funding — “U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined their Senate colleagues in a letter calling for funding to support local journalism and media to be included in any future COVID-19 relief package.” [Press Release]

Video: YHS Orchestra Plays Remotely — “Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in D Major, RV 121 (1st movement) by the members of the Yorktown High School Chamber Orchestra during the COVID-19 pandemic.” [YouTube]

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A two-alarm fire scorched the top floor of a small office building in Virginia Square tonight (Tuesday).

A passerby called 911 just after 7:45 p.m. to report flames and smoke coming from the building at 933 N. Kenmore Street. The blaze was extinguished thanks to an “aggressive attack” by firefighters, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant, but not before causing “heavy fire damage on the fourth floor.”

Smoke and water damage was also reported on the third and second floors. No injuries were reported. The Fire Marshal’s Office is now investigating the cause.

The office, across from the George Mason University Arlington campus, houses a number of small businesses, including an insurance agent and a massage therapy center. A web search found two businesses on the fourth floor of the building: an immigration law office and long-time conservative political magazine The American Spectator.

More photos and video via social media below, after the jump.

Map via Google Maps. Video courtesy Arash Tafakor.

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Facebook announced earlier this month that it will begin to prioritize content from friends and family over news publishers in its News Feed.

The announcement will come as a surprise to some, since 67 percent of Americans receive their news via Facebook. Pages like ours will stay in the News Feed but the you’ll likely see less of our content.

Want to make sure that doesn’t happen? Here’s how you can still follow the latest Arlington stories via your Facebook feed:

  • First go to settings.
  • Then select “News Feed Preferences.”
  • Next, select “Prioritize who to see first.”
  • Finally you can select or “star” profiles that you want to prioritize on your news feed (like ARLnow) by scrolling through or searching profiles you already follow. If you can’t find “Arlington Now,” you can press “sort” and filter by all.

Want to be even more sure you’re not missing a headline? Sign up for our email newsletter here or via the form below.

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