Journalism has always been an important aspect of Aila Boyd’s life.
As a child growing up in Southwest Virginia, she made it a point to wake up an hour early each weekday to watch “The Today Show” with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. At school, it was her job to give the morning announcements.
Boyd, who is publisher of The Central Virginian in Louisa, said she developed an interest in playwrighting near the tail end of high school, and double-majored in journalism and theater at Radford University.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t broadcast journalism that held her interest in college. Boyd found that she much preferred print journalism and enjoyed studying the ins-and-outs of media law and ethics and discovering the Freedom of Information Act.
Her first job out of college was at The Southwest Times, then a daily newspaper in Pulaski, where she had to turn around two to three articles every day for the next day’s edition. It was there she developed a fondness for feature writing.
“Every day it was an intensive thing for me, having my hands in everything,” Boyd said. “That really taught me a lot.”
Later, she moved on to cover the county beat at another daily paper, The Martinsville Bulletin, and soon found herself missing her involvement in theater and became a high school theater teacher.
Boyd spent her days teaching young thespians and nights reporting for a newspaper and working toward her master’s in journalism. Eventually, Boyd transferred to teach college-level writing classes and found that she particularly enjoyed educating students at that level.
“It was formative to me as writer,” she said.
Ultimately, the call of journalism sounded once again, and Boyd found herself editing two newspapers in the Roanoke area – The Fincastle Herald and The Vinton Messenger.
“It was really exciting to have that level of freedom and really take ownership of that product,” Boyd said. “It’s one thing to be a reporter and another as an editor. It was exciting to get embedded there. It felt like home.”
Seven months ago, she decided it was time to explore new frontiers by becoming publisher at The Central Virginian.
“I think a lot of times, we as professionals get into our silos and don’t take into account what else is going on around us,” she said.
Before becoming a publisher, Boyd said that she’d never given much thought to circulation.
“As a reporter and editor, that’s just not something you think about,” she said. “As publisher, you have to be aware of all the facets. You have to have a well-oiled machine.”
It was a bit of a learning curve for Boyd when she was placed at the helm of The Central Virginian, but she has managed to gain a grasp of her new role and brings a fresh perspective to the paper. She also credits the paper’s staff, many of whom have worked there for many years.
“Having that institutional knowledge is a really powerful tool,” she said.
Like many newspapers, the pandemic has impacted The Central Virginian, Boyd said.
“We’ve had to run a leaner operation to ensure that we are able to stick around, and that has made us a little more innovative in our approach,” Boyd explained.
Boyd said the paper has been leaning more into its digital product. In January, The Central Virginian launched an App to help readers connect with the paper digitally. The editorial team has worked persistently through the pandemic to provide the community with up-to-date news.
The staff has also evaluated its special pages and sections that they have produced over the years and are striving to be more innovative.
One special section that Boyd said she is most proud of is their “Parade of Honor,” which recognized longtime businesses in the community. Staff took what in previous years had been a full page of advertising only and turned it into a full-blown glossy section containing feature articles about each business.
“That was a special edition that was well received,” she said. “That’s inspired me in planning things for the future. What can we do to take it to the next level?”
Becoming publisher of a 109-year-old newspaper in the middle of a pandemic has presented its own unique challenges for Boyd, who arrived at The Central Virginian seven months ago.
“The pandemic has complicated my ability to get out and really network with people and maintain connections,” she said. “You don’t want to just drop in on people as I would have in the past.”
Prioritizing the health and safety of the small staff at the newspaper is important to Boyd. Otherwise, she noted, there won’t be anyone to put out a paper each week.
In a rural county such as Louisa County, broadband internet is not readily available to residents who don’t live in the area’s two towns – Mineral and Louisa. The ability to get important information out to the public is essential.
“We are undoubtedly an essential service,” she said. “We are their direct connection to local government, businesses, legal notices.
It was important to Boyd as a new publisher to get up to speed as quickly as possible.
“Things are evolving,” she said. “The pandemic has put the pressure on publishers.”
That means she must constantly reassess what the newspaper does and determine if it’s being effective by looking at everything from a readers’ perspective. Staying on top of circulation, advertising, classifieds, legals and editorial is crucial.
“You always have to be flexible,” she said.
Journalism is a difficult profession, she said. The role of being a watchdog in the community comes with its fair share of criticism and praise.
“We have the power to really affect change,” she said.
When Boyd isn’t busy running a thriving hometown newspaper, the adjunct writing professor at Patrick Henry Community College is grading her students’ papers.
“I’m the type of person who likes to be doing something,” she said.
And as any publisher who oversees a small weekly newspaper knows, Boyd doesn’t have to worry about a lack of things to do.
Article by Deana Meredith, VPA Communication Manager