“I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Like as soon as I could read, I was like ‘I wanna make these, these things, these books.’ The form of that has changed over time.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an author/illustrator, then I wanted to write novels, then I wanted to write poetry. I went to grad school to study Shakespearean-era drama and thought I would teach that at the college level, but academia really wasn’t for me. And so I started looking for other ways to write, to always be learning.”

Erin O’Hare is the neighborhoods reporter for Charlottesville Tomorrow, a hyperlocal non-profit news website serving Charlottesville, Virginia. Erin likes to say she’s never met a stranger and loves to listen, which makes for an ideal reporter to cover a small city.

This interview had three primary topics: Erin talked about what it means to be a neighborhoods reporter, what it’s like to cover art, culture, and music, and how covering the Unite The Right rally affected her as a person and a reporter. We focus on what we learned from the first topic here and encourage you to click here to listen and learn about Erin’s experiences.

Empathy comes from firsthand experience

“Growing up I was around a lot of different types of people … I always had friends from different backgrounds, so I was never just around a bunch of middle-class white kids. I was around people of so many backgrounds and … my friends not feeling seen, my friend’s not feeling heard, my friends missing out on opportunities because of what they looked like or how much money their family made. And I thought that was bullshit. I still think it is.

So I think it was really obvious, like why aren’t these folks also featured in these stories? Why is it such a narrow perspective and my definition of art is also really broad. So that just opened up a whole other world (of writing) for me.”

The beat starts with housing

“It affects so many things in our life. It affects our health. It affects what kind of job we can have. Do you have a car? Can you drive to this place or do you have to walk? Our bus system isn’t great, so you know what happens there? Housing, it’s the biggest part and I try to look at housing from an equity perspective.

So who are the people who are really being left behind in this housing market? It’s people who are unhoused, people who are low income, people on a fixed income. Who are the most vulnerable people? Who are the people who are most affected?”

How to turn a story about a mall bathroom into something important

“I love doing this kind of, of reporting because it seems like not a big deal, right?

A public bathroom. There’s so much more to it than that. And this is something my editors tease me about all the time. They’re like, we send you off to like write like a 200 word thing about whatever, and you come back with this great story.

It is a big deal because there was no public restroom on the downtown mall and like, and it’s an economic center.

It’s where a lot of businesses and coffee shops and that sort of thing are. And you know, the city wants everyone to go down there and you. walk around and whatever, but unless you were buying a coffee or eating at a restaurant, you had no place to go to the bathroom. That’s kind of ridiculous for a place that is seen as a vibrant center of town.

So I got all of that reporting basically done in a day because I just went downtown and talked to people. And what I did was, I did prioritize people. who maybe normally wouldn’t be asked about this. I asked people waiting at bus stops.  I asked business owners who weren’t old white people. We have a day shelter for unhoused community members on the downtown mall.

And I asked some of those folks as well because they don’t have anywhere else to go to the bathroom. So those were the voices that I made sure to include. And I just luck into these situations I think because I just go out and I talk to anybody. The first person I talked to was a man with the medical condition. How lucky was I?

the, that guy, like I, we used to live in the same neighborhood, and so I would see him around  we’d kinda like acknowledge one another, but we had never had a conversation.

And he was very open with me and I really appreciated that. And I think he’s someone who a lot of people see because he’s always riding the bus, but  maybe he doesn’t get asked what, what he thinks.”