Much as 2020 was a year of uncertainty – both for us at the Henrico Citizen and people worldwide – 2021 was a year of adaptation and the return to some semblance of normality. At the Citizen, it has been our first full year as a fully digital daily weekday publication, following our switch from a print-plus-digital format when COVID struck some 21 months ago.
And as we’ve settled into this new normal, we’ve made much progress in our goal to provide the best, most comprehensive and most fair coverage of Henrico County available – but we still have much more we hope to achieve.
With a handful of days left in 2021, we’ve published 2,592 articles or briefs this year – an average of more than 7 every day of the year. Of those, 540 have been bylined articles by a Citizen staff member or local contributing writer – an average of nearly 1.5 every day.
Though we are an editorial staff of just two full-time employees and one limited-role part-time employee, we’ve worked diligently to cover (as extensively and with as much perspective as we can) all the key issues affecting Henrico County this year – from COVID-19, vaccinations and the virus’s impact on the county, its school system and its way of life. . . to government, business development, community, transportation and public safety. . . and a little of everything in between.
This year, we welcomed our first-ever full-time reporter and our inaugural advisory board, we celebrated our 20th year in business (and offered 20 days of gifts to those who made contributions to support our coverage) and won our first-ever Best in Show award from the Virginia Press Association. And in this, our second-ever annual report (here was our first), we’ll reflect in greater detail upon the year that was for the Citizen and Henrico County.
(If you missed the list of our 25 most-read articles of the year, take a look here.)
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Recreation and Sports
OUR BUSINESS MODEL
Report for America
To our readers, advertisers and supporters
By now, you (and seemingly half of the world’s population) have probably seen the video clip we posted from an August Henrico School Board meeting, at which someone played a prank on school board members by signing up a number of fake names to speak at the public comment portion of the meeting. The Simpsons-style prank quickly went viral after we posted the clip and article, eventually landing in nearly every corner of the internet, on late-night television talks shows and likely lots of other places, too.
School Board Chairman Roscoe Cooper, III, the unwitting victim of the prank, was a good sport throughout his 15 minutes of unwanted fame.
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We kept regular tabs on the county’s unemployment figures, beginning the first week of the year, when 368 people filed first-time claims and continuing well into the year, as they began to wane.
We published photo profiles of a number of the ‘faces of Henrico business.’
The Henrico Economic Development Authority partnered with the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity to create more opportunities for SWaM businesses in the county.
Amazon announced that it was building a massive robotics fulfillment center at Richmond Raceway, where it will employee 1,000 people.
Seven Henrico companies landed on the Fortune 1000 list.
Mondelēz International announced a $122.5-million expansion of its Varina facility.
Krispy Kreme announced plans to open a store in Short Pump, and you loved that; it was among our 35 most-read articles.
Short Pump restaurants came up with unique ways to create sustainable success.
Kroger decided to relocate its Mid-Atlantic headquarters to Glen Allen. T-Mobile opened a customer service center at the site of a former Sam’s Club. SimpliSafe announced it would expand and add more than 250 jobs in Henrico.
Coca-Cola announced that it would complete a $23-million expansion in Eastern Henrico.
Several dozen Henrico and venue operators received funding through federal relief programs.
A senior living community opened the final leg of its $100-million expansion project.
Members of the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce met with Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin in Henrico.
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It’s the topic we can’t escape and one that has changed our lives for nearly two years. The Citizen has made coverage of COVID-19 and all its related impacts here a focal point since it arrived, and 2021 brought the rollout of the COVID vaccines, which we covered extensively again in 2021, from our first article of the year (at which point more than 3,200 Henricoans had received one dose) to our most recent one (at which point more than 241,500 had). Our coverage detailed an initial mishap with the registration system, the start of mass vaccination efforts at Richmond Raceway and much in between.
We continued our regular coverage of COVID levels in the county, too, providing perspective that has gone much deeper than just case counts and hospitalizations but has delved into trends, explanations and perspective from local and state health officials.
On Jan. 4, the county was averaging its most new daily COVID-19 cases ever – and it’s closing the year the same way, breaking single-day and weekly average records several times in late December.
The Virginia Department of Health established a pre-registration site for vaccinations, and soon more pharmacies began offering vaccines.
We wrote regularly about how many doses of vaccine the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts were receiving and provided regular coverage about which phase of vaccination the state and region were in.
Henrico officials were miffed when they thought state officials had prioritized other mass vaccination sites ahead of theirs at Richmond Raceway.
Henrico led the state in vaccination per 100,000 residents for several months, but Black and Latino residents were getting vaccinated at lower rates than whites.
The RHHD prioritized vaccination opportunities for senior citizens, and about 5,000 seniors were vaccinated on Feb. 27 at Richmond Raceway.
In April, the county surpassed 100,000 vaccines given at the raceway – but our analysis showed that, ironically, the least vaccinated Census tract in Henrico was the one that included the raceway.
By that same month, the region’s vaccination strategy had begun to shift.
We looked into daily and weekly hospitalization and death totals to clarify when they actually had occurred.
By July 1, 70% of Henricoans 18 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine – three days ahead of the target date set by President Joe Biden.
We analyzed data and found that while cases were spiking in children and teens, severe outcomes remained rare.
We regularly reported on trends in cases and vaccinations.
More than 1,100 children ages 5 to 11 in the county were vaccinated during the first week they became eligible.
By early November, new COVID cases in Henrico had slowed to just a trickle – but the arrival of the Omicron variant about a month later sent case counts skyrocketing to new highs.
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We made coverage of Henrico education a focal point in 2020, and we doubled down on our investment in 2021, publishing nearly 350 articles about education.
The year started with what would be one of many changes to public school plans, when an anticipated return to in-person learning for students who chose it was delayed because of rising COVID numbers – then delayed again one week later to allow teachers to be vaccinated, an explanation that two Henrico supervisors disputed while simultaneously defending Superintendent Amy Cashwell, who had provided it. Finally, school board members agreed to a staggered return to in-person learning.
The school system began streaming high school sports games on YouTube.
A Moody Middle School eighth-grader repeated as the Henrico Schools’ Spelling Bee champion.
The school system continued to provide free meals via pick-up and delivery to bus stops through the 2020-21 school year – almost 4 million meals in total.
School Board members of the Henrico Board of Supervisors discussed the future of the Achievable Dream Academy at Highland Springs Elementary School.
The school system announced plans for its first dual-language immersion program, at Holladay Elementary School.
The school system opened new editions of Highland Springs and Tucker high schools, as well as an expanded version of Holladay Elementary.
Andy Jenks left Henrico Schools, and you noticed. Our article about his departure was our ninth most-viewed piece of the year. The school system later named his replacement.
The school board voted to make changes to the boundaries of seven West End elementary schools, beginning with the 2021-22 school year.
People complained when the school system opted not to declare a snow day after the first significant snow of the year.
Then-Henrico School Board Chairwoman Micky Ogburn shared an offensive Dr. Seuss post on Facebook, then apologized profusely for doing so, but the damage was already done. She later resigned as chair but retained her seat on the board.
A Henrico High School student and football player suffered a broken neck during a game, and the community rallied around him to raise more than $133,000 for his medical care as he continues to recover.
The Henrico Board of Supervisors expressed frustration that it couldn’t hold the school board accountable in more specifics ways, but the two boards later found harmony in a joint meeting.
The school board hosted its first virtual learning session and got an earful from citizens.
A Henrico sixth-grader appeared on the Kelly Clarkson Show.
Some Henrico teachers were confused when their salary increases appeared to be less than they had expected.
We published our 10th annual Henrico’s Top Teachers section, profiling 20 outstanding teachers.
Henrico Schools officials initially indicated they weren’t planning to offer in-school COVID-19 vaccinations, but then reversed course four days later.
The ‘Black Men Read’ organization continued to make an impact on literacy levels at Henrico schools.
Henrico Schools, like other districts, faced a bus driver shortage and began offering bonuses to attract new drivers, then a pay raise for its lowest-paid drivers. Many drivers, however, remained frustrated by the stress of the new school year and added responsibilities.
The school system announced that all students would continue to have their own laptops.
Superintendent Amy Cashwell received a $38,000 pay raise from the school board, and we took a look at how that salary compared with those of other superintendents statewide.
The HCPS Summer Academy served a record number of students, as many tried to catch up on learning interrupted by the pandemic.
State officials recommended – but stopped short of requiring – masks for all students in the 2021-22 school year, and then Henrico Schools officials opted to make them optional, causing a last-minute rush on attempted registrations for the new Henrico Virtual Academy (though only about 2% of those waitlisted made it in). Then the Henrico Education Association demanded a mask mandate, school officials said their policy still could change , Gov. Ralph Northam warned school systems that hadn’t implemented mask mandates that they would be in violation of state law, though some state lawmakers disagreed with his assessment. Then the school board flipped its decision and implemented a mask mandate after all, but at almost the same time, Northam issued a health order requiring masks for all schools anyway.
The family of a former Short Pump Middle School student who was assaulted by football teammates at the school settled a federal lawsuit against the school system.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Henrico.
St. Joseph’s Villa opened its new autism center.
Reynolds Community College got creative in order to attract new students.
A Glen Allen High School student started a petition to end the school system’s dress code.
Empowered by a new law that allows it, the Henrico Education Association began working to push for collective bargaining.
Gaps in graduation rates for English-learners and Hispanic students in Henrico persisted but reached 98% among students who completed Career and Technical Education courses.
The school system temporarily removed a book from schools after a complaint.
The school board punted a decision on countywide redistricting, saying that the time was not right for the process to begin again.
A new state assessment showed that Henrico students in grades 3-5 were behind on math knowledge.
The school system’s enrollment numbers continued to slump.
A new school health clinic at one elementary school is designed to remove barriers to success and reduce absences.
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Henrico’s Board of Supervisors approved the largest development in Henrico’s history, the $2-billion GreenCity ecodistrict.
Supervisors adopted a proposal from County Manager John Vithoulkas that provided $54 million in pay raises for county employees and a budget that nearly restored the general funding levels at which the county would have been if not for the pandemic.
Henrico scrapped plans to charge citizens $24 annually for recycling and for the first time (in January) outlined plans for a 2022 bond referendum, which they were closer to finalizing by November.
Plans for a civilian review board for Henrico Police died after supervisors couldn’t agree about how the board might function.
County officials undertook a comprehensive update of Henrico’s zoning and subdivision ordinance.
Supervisors weighed options for new redevelopment incentives during the summer, then approved plans later in the year. They also took action to allow regular inspections of a troubled Eastern Henrico apartment complex.
A weeklong charrette imagined the future of Short Pump Town Center.
The county received $64.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money and planned for “transformational” projects with federal dollars. It also awarded more than $573,000 in rental assistance to citizens.
Supervisors began their reapportionment process in May, based upon 2020 U.S. Census data, received proposed boundary maps in October, then voted to adopt a plan in December.
They also weighed the possibility of extending water and sewer service countywide.
Voting drop-boxes became available in all five Henrico magisterial districts for the first time ever.
The county created “Build Henrico,” a portal for zoning complaints, building permits and related actions.
County officials learned that potentially dangerous chemicals known as PFAS were present in Eastern Henrico waterways, then began testing private wells in the area for them. Then, we learned that federal officials knew about the chemicals months earlier.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring brought lawsuits against two Henrico apartment complexes that allegedly said they didn’t accept vouchers.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Henrico to see a transportation project and meet with state business officials.
Proposed redistricting maps for Virginia would cause Henrico to lose a seat in the House of Delegates but gain one in the Virginia Senate.
County Manager John Vithoulkas announced that the county would issue a 2-cent real estate ‘dividend’ to landowners because of the county’s budget surplus.
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Thirteen-year-old Lucia Bremer was murdered in the Far West End while walking home from an event at Godwin High School in February. Her alleged killer, a then-14-year-old boy, awaits trial as an adult. The caregiver from whom he allegedly obtained the gun used in the shooting also faces a charge.
Someone robbed a Chick-fil-A employee who was standing outside in a drive-through lane.
Well-respected Henrico Police Capt. Donald Lambert, Jr. was struck and killed in Glen Allen while out for a jog. County officials later announced they’d name a new road in the area for Lambert.
A popular physical education teacher at Short Pump Middle School was arrested and charged with six counts of sexual assault, which allegedly occurred several years ago. He is awaiting trial.
People (we hope unintentionally) brought guns to checkpoints at Richmond International Airport at a record pace in 2020. And in 2021, they’ve done the same thing again, and again, and again.
A 68-year-old man went on a rampage in Lakeside, damaging the fire station and Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad.
A 19-year-old was charged in a hit-and-run that killed a 43-year-old West End woman.
Four firefighters were injured when their fire engine overturned on a snowy road.
A Varina High School student was the victim of a Richmond homicide. Two Henrico teens were found dead in a West End apartment.
A self-proclaimed KKK leader was sentenced to 3 years, 8 months in jail after being convicted of driving his truck into a group of Black Lives Matter protesters in Lakeside in June 2020.
A national television show examined a 2014 Lakeside murder. A popular comic book character creator was arrested in Henrico on troubling charges.
Henrico Police arrested 14 people on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges following a three-year investigation.
Distracted driving was responsible for more than 2,200 crashes in Henrico since 2019, data showed.
Social media threats made against Highland Springs and Varina high schools were deemed non-credible, but later a Henrico High School student was arrested on weapons charges amidst a wave of other threats.
The school system and Henrico Police initiated some changes to the their school resource officer memorandum of understanding.
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RECREATION AND SPORTS
It was a busy year for recreation projects in the county, with a number getting under way, continuing or concluding.
First Tee of Greater Richmond completed its remake of Belmont Golf Course, which reopened in May with a new look.
Henrico hosted its inaugural Juneteenth celebration at Dorey Park in Varina.
Henrico officials began their planning for the new Taylor Farm Park in Sandston in earnest.
Henrico County announced that it would host a Major League Fishing tournament next year and a collegiate softball conference’s championship tournaments through 2024.
NOVA Aquatics of Virginia opened a new swim facility at Regency Square. Former NOVA swimmer Townley Haas of Henrico competed in his second summer Olympics.
The Henrico Board of Supervisors approved a construction contract for the indoor arena and convocation center the county is building at Virginia Center Commons.
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The new year brought to life the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, a new regional body that is tasked with funding some big-picture projects in Henrico and neighboring jurisdictions, and a long-term transportation plan for the region proposed $2 billion for projects in Henrico.
Henrico continued (and eventually completed) construction of a roundabout at Woodman and Greenwood roads in Glen Allen, announced safety and mobility changes for a portion of Church Road (an initial example of changes county officials hope to implement on other roads in the near future), opened an extension of Capital Trail through Dorey Park in Varina and announced it would spend nearly $10 million to upgrade its traffic management system.
A new law impacting the way motorists and cyclists interact on the road took effect.
Long-awaited enhancements came to the Parham Road-Patterson Avenue intersection, and a state project to replace the I-64 bridges over Airport Drive and shift traffic patterns in the area continued.
New air service from existing providers and from new ones to and from Richmond International Airport began, as air traffic began to recover from the pandemic and air cargo traffic at RIC hit an all-time high.
The FAA considered closing the airport’s air traffic control tower between midnight and 5 a.m. daily, but pushback prompted officials to scrap those plans.
GRTC announced that its service would remain free to all riders through June 2022, and Henrico officials asked for seats on the company’s board of directors.
Amtrak service in Henrico could increase within the next decade, Virginia’s transportation secretary announced, and state officials sought input about a possible “transit oriented development” adjacent to the Staples Mill station.
All but 4% of Virginians told the truth when asked about speeding on the road.
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OUR BUSINESS MODEL
For the second consecutive year, our readership numbers continued to skyrocket – up 54% from 2020 to nearly 880,000 users (compared with 570,000 last year), or an average of more than 73,000 each month. Pageviews on HenricoCitizen.com grew by nearly 41% from last year to 1.75 million.
Readers – nearly 325 in total – combined to donate more than $20,000 to support our work in 2021, and we are thankful for every dollar you invested in us.
In 2022, we expect reader revenue to become an even more prominent – and more important – aspect of our transition to a sustainable model of digital journalism. We are exploring a variety of possible optional, required and hybrid reader revenue structures as we attempt to balance our desire to make our coverage available to as many people as possible with a need to produce the revenue necessary to pay our staff fair wages and fund the work we do.
In March, we shifted to a new email newsletter platform (SubStack) and have seen our free subscribers increased by more than 1,500 to nearly 13,500. SubStack also allows users who choose to do so the opportunity to support our coverage financially, and 70 of you have done so to date. Sign up for our free daily weekday email here.
Publisher Tom Lappas also continues to produce a daily weekday podcast, the Henrico News Minute, which is about to enter its fourth year and provides a quick (4 to 8-minute) overview of the Henrico news you need to know each morning.
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REPORT FOR AMERICA
Perhaps the most significant aspect of our year was the addition of our first ever full-time reporter – Anna Bryson – who came to us through the Report for America program, to which we applied and were accepted in late 2020. The Citizen became only the second Virginia news organization accepted into the program, a journalism service program that helps place full-time reporters at participating outlets nationally and in Puerto Rico to cover undercover beats.
RFA pays half the salary of first-year reporters, 33% for those in the second year in the program and 20% for those in the third year.
For the Citizen, Anna covers education, with a special focus on equity and diversity. In her first six-plus months on the beat, Anna has quickly established herself as one of the premier education reporters in Virginia, having broken a number of stories and provided consistent, in-depth coverage of education in Henrico at a time when it is top of mind for parents and students countywide.
And you – our readers and supporters – have contributed more than $12,000 in donations to help fund her first-year salary. We’re excited to announce that Anna will continue at least for a second year with us, too – through May 2023. If you value the coverage she works diligently to provide, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support her position.
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As we continue to evaluate revenue strategies, we continue to out to local and regional businesses who want to share their messages with our 73,000+ monthly readers. We believe there’s no better or more effective way to reach active, engaged and loyal Henrico citizens than through the Henrico Citizen. Our 2021 media kit provides a variety of advertising options across our online, email, podcast, sponsored content, app and social media platforms – for as low as $125 month.
In the fall, we hired Business Development Manager Lauren Modelski, who works with clients to find the best fit for their message and budget across our platforms. Contact Lauren at email@example.com to learn more.
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TO OUR READERS, ADVERTISERS AND SUPPORTERS
Our 20th year was full of many of the same financial challenges we faced in 2020, but your readership and support helped us survive and provide the type of coverage you have come to expect from the Citizen. For that, we are ever grateful. Thank you. From our family to yours, all the best for a happy and healthy 2022!
Contact us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, news, questions, concerns or praise.
Contact Publisher/Editor Tom Lappas at email@example.com.
Contact Managing Editor Patty Kruszewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Education Reporter Anna Bryson at email@example.com.
Contact Online and Events Editor Sarah Story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Business Development Manager Lauren Modelski at email@example.com.
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