What is the DTM?

In 2012, the DTM was a "blog" and Facebook page I started about the Downtown Mall — locals always used "DTM" as a shorthand for the place — while I was a staff reporter for The Hook, a feisty weekly that was shuttered in 2013. I thought of it as a "hyper-local" online news source, a term that was popular at the time, that would focus specifically on the culture and dynamics of the Downtown Mall, an 8-block section of Main Street that had been converted into a pedestrian mall in the 1970s. It turned into more than that.

The Downtown Mall was an attempt to revitalize the city’s urban center, which was dying in an age of suburbanization, and to heal the wounds from a 60s-era ‘urban renewal’ demolition of two nearby African-American neighborhoods, Vinegar Hill and Garrett Street. However, it would take nearly 20 years for that revitalization to materialize. In the early 1990s, you could walk across Market Street, which was one-way at the time, without even looking. The mall had a Woolworth’s and an auto parts store, a few popular bar/restaurants (Fellini's, C&O Restaurant, Miller’s, Eastern Standard), a fledgling alt-weekly (Cville Weekly), a late-night gay club (Club 216), a coffee/record store ( Spencer’s 206 ), an independent book store (William’s Corner Bookstore), and a local theater troupe (Live Arts). A bartender at Miller’s had put together a band that was attracting large crowds at Trax, a nearby nightclub where they had a weekly gig. While a unique creative scene had emerged downtown, the mall itself was routinely deserted.

But that would slowly change. By the turn of the century, after the development of a skating rink, music venues, a movie theater, and additional shops and restaurants, more and more people began visiting the mall. There would be visits from the Dalai Lama, Barrack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Anthony Bourdain, and other world figures and celebrities. Miller’s, thanks to that bartender who started a band, would become a tourist attraction. The revitalization had finally come to fruition.

Since then, the mall has become a city centerpiece for culture and controversy, an evolving urban experiment [ Many in Charlottesville’s Black community still report feeling unwelcome there], and was ground zero for the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017. People routinely argue about the DTM, whether it is still popular or in decline (and if it should have vehicle crossings or not), and you’ll discover wildly different opinions about that.

Not long after The Hook closed in 2013, Cville Weekly published a story about a white couple attacked by two Black men on the Downtown Mall. The white couple said they believed it was a random "knockout game" attack done for pure pleasure. The story received national attention. People were outraged and complained about crime on the DTM with not-so-subtle racial overtones. No longer a paid reporter, and still looking for work, I decided to investigate the incident myself and post the stories on my blog, The DTM. I would discover that the white couple lied to the press about what happened, and had actually provoked the incident. Remarkably, those early blog posts received national attention as well and lead to protests outside the Cville Weekly office. A Princeton University student made it the topic of a cultural study. [You can read the DTM's additional coverage on this story here, here, here, and here.]

Maybe, I thought, a personal blog could be more than a personal blog.

Since then, a variety of independent, do-it-yourself news and information sites have emerged, attracting large audiences and changing the media landscape. Locally, journalists like Sean Tubbs and Molly Conger have followings that rival and even surpass local media operations. Traditional media now often get their information and take their cues from those who make up our local social media ecosystem. It’s remarkable how the way we receive news and information has changed.

Still, there’s a tremendous void in our news landscape due to a lack of working journalists. Between 2005 and 2009, the reporting staff at our local paper the Daily Progress went from 42 people to 18 people, which was seen as grim development at the time. But it has become much worse. Today, only 3 full-time news reporters are covering a metropolitan area of 235,000 people.

Your support for the DTM and similar independent efforts helps to keep local journalism alive and well in Charlottesville.

Thanks for reading! And thanks for your support!

— David McNair

Good stuff from what seems to be the best news source in Charlottesville.” — Rick Tetzeli, editor-at-large, Fast Company Magazine.

What the DTM brings to local news—besides McNair’s institutional knowledge—is a zestier writing style than more established media.” - C-Ville Weekly

You can find out more about me here.


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Independent reporting, commentary, and analysis from a long-time Charlottesville journalist.


Award-winning journalist and writer from Charlottesville, Virginia.