Tom Lappas' official title is publisher. But he's also the Henrico Citizen's online editor, layout editor and, when time grants him a very rare favor, he actually gets to be a reporter. Such is the life of the guy who heads up Henrico County's scrappiest community newspaper.
Lappas arrived at the Far West End Press in 1998 a newly minted graduate of the University of Richmond. When the newspaper was put on the sales block three years later, he and three other staffers decided to start their own shop with the intent to give Henrico County a free and locally owned publication.
This was just as the journalism industry began to tank. “I suppose it might have seemed a little crazy at the time,” he says.
But he moved forward anyway. And despite a handful of unforeseen developments — the paper launched days after the 9/11 attacks — the Citizen survives even while shrinking ad revenues force other local papers to scale back coverage.
“We're not going to break a ton of news stories,” Lappas acknowledges. “But because we write about the people here — their friends, families and their neighbors — they trust us. And that's led to a lot of coverage that another publication might not pick up on.”
Since its launch the Citizen has won a multitude of Virginia Press Association awards, and has supported a number of causes in the community, including Virginia Blood Services and Crime Stoppers. Lappas also has volunteered with Stop Child Abuse Now.
Asked about the future of community journalism, Lappas says he remains confident. “As long as people continue to be interested in their surroundings, there will always be a need for publications like the Citizen.”