FXBG ADVANCE, ADELE UPHAUS
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Fredericksburg was home to multiple newspapers – morning papers, evening papers, dailies, weeklies and semi-weeklies.
Competition between them did grow fierce on at least one occasion, such as when Rufus Merchant, the publisher of the Virginia Star, and W. Seymour White, editor of The Recorder, came to blows in the city’s streets.
“So fierce is the rivalry of these journalists that the resources of the English language were insufficient to satisfy the passions of either foeman,” reported The New York Herald in its Dec. 1878 account of their fight.
Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw – Merchant’s great-granddaughter – read aloud from the Herald’s story at the Nov. 27 ribbon-cutting for the Fredericksburg Advance, held at the University of Mary Washington’s Small Business Development Center.
“While I do not recommend that level of competition, I applaud … the fact that (Fredericksburg has) more than one news source and most importantly, a local news source,” Greenlaw said. “Multiple sources of information are vitally important to a community.”
Greenlaw was one of several elected officials who attended the ribbon-cutting. Others included City Council member Matt Kelly, Stafford supervisor Monica Gary, Spotsylvania School Board member Nicole Cole and member-elect Megan Jackson, and Abigail Spanberger, who represents the Fredericksburg area in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a candidate for Virginia governor in 2025.
Spanberger said she is “a proud reader and a grateful reader” of the Advance.
“It is an extraordinary resource for the community,” she said. “It is a vital way to get information and reporting on community events and a way to engage community members in thought and critical consideration of our own viewpoints.”
Editor-in-Chief Martin Davis thanked the community for the support he has received since he began publishing what became the Fredericksburg Advance in February of this year.
“We figured out that people are coming to us because they trust us to tell their stories,” he said. “For me, there is no greater honor than to be entrusted to tell people’s stories. We started this paper for the community.”
Davis reiterated the importance of local news to a functioning democracy.
“It’s absolutely vital,” he said. “As a historian by training, I know that whatever seeds of democracy, decency and civility you have are planted right here.”
Davis said the Advance is committed to presenting “multipartisan” viewpoints.
“We are one of the few news organizations that is adamantly and profoundly multipartisan,” he said. “We will not back away from that.”
Advance board members Shaun Kenney and Leigh Anne Van Doren also spoke at the ribbon-cutting.
Kenney said he views the publication as “an open public square where every opinion can be raised and respected.”
“That’s the sort of thing we’ve lost in America and that we’ve lost in Virginia,” he said. “There is another half of the community that nobody engages with and to have those collide with each other in sometimes spectacular ways – that’s how you get solutions.”
Van Doren said a nonprofit newsroom has been part of her vision board for years.
“I just kept patiently putting little pieces in place as they came to me,” she said. “So I was ready when Martin and Shaun became available as the most amazing content creators I have ever encountered. They were just electrifying in their coverage of education issues in the area, and as the publisher of a parenting magazine (Fredericksburg Parent) I have long wanted some really deep information and reporting for our parents.”
In addition to Kenney and Van Doren, the Advance’s board includes Craig Vasey, retired professor of philosophy at UMW; Cory MacLauchlin, an English professor at Germanna Community College; and Rick Pullen, a local journalist and author.