Behind the headlines, examining the history and future of The Roanoke Tribune

Newspaper has served the community for more than 80 years.

ROANOKE, Va. – Any given week on Wednesday afternoon, The Roanoke Tribune is serving the city’s Black community, rolling off the presses.

But the journey from the newsroom – to the presses – and eventually to the public, certainly follows the road less traveled.

And an old road at that.

While Rev. Fleming Alexander started the newspaper in 1939 and since 1971, his daughter, Claudia Whitworth, has been the one behind the headlines.

“When I graduated from Christiansburg Institute, I came down to help daddy which he didn’t ask for, didn’t want. But I was determined to do so,” Whitworth said.

Beginning on Monday mornings, she edits copy, writes the editorial, and, like glue, holds the paper together, at its Melrose Avenue headquarters.

Roanoke Tribune building on Melrose Avenue in Roanoke, Virginia. (WSLS 10)

All these years and she hasn’t let up.

“She’s 93 years old and she still comes to work every single day. If it’s 9 to 5 or 9 to 9 at night, she will stay. She doesn’t have sick days and she doesn’t go on vacation,” said Eva Shaw-Gill, Whitworth’s daughter.

Shaw-Gill isn’t the only one in her family working at the paper.

Her brother, Stan Hale, the associate editor, is poised to take on the paper’s leadership in the years ahead.

Even her 21-year-old daughter, Klaudia Shaw, one of her triplets, works there as well.

Alexander used the Tribune to project the Black voice during segregation amidst his fight against racism.

The Roanoke Tribune issue dated Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, the day after Joe Biden's inauguration. (WSLS 10)

These days, it’s a kinder, gentler paper, but one that still plays a distinct role.

“I guess to get its own news, reported by Black people,” said Shaw, referring to the Black community.

Everyone at the paper agrees that it is their role to print what other media doesn’t, good news from their community.

“It doesn’t happen enough,” said Shaw-Gill. “It doesn’t happen at all.”

Another editor of a Black paper once told Whitworth that she should rely less on good news, telling her it doesn’t sell; however, violent crimes are not the types of stories she wants to print.

“Most papers headline bad news. You know. And I don’t do that,” Whitworth said. “And I asked him why on earth do you do that when that’s when that’s what people think of us anyway.”

“You know there’s a lot of good that goes on in the neighborhood in the community and we try to shine a light on that,” Shaw-Gill echoed.

After two days of writing and preparation, the Tribune is in high gear.

Whitworth makes last-minute edits, Shaw prepares labels and everyone is working toward a mid-afternoon deadline so the 10 pages of good news can be printed down the road in Salem, on the presses of the Salem Times Register, which handles printing many of the region’s local weekly papers.

Then, hot off the presses, the papers are loaded into Shaw-Gill’s SUV.

“I sent a text and say, ’I’ll be at the Tribune in 20 minutes,’” Shaw-Gill explains as she gets in the car, to head back to Melrose Avenue.

That text alerts a multitude of people to get to the Tribune’s headquarters to process the paper for mailing and distribution to nearby stores.

They call it Mail Out Day.

The triplets arrive, one at a time, each stopping on the way in to hug Whitworth, known to them as Nana.

It's Mail Out Day at the Roanoke Tribune (WSLS 10)

Before long, a room that had only three or four people in it becomes crowded as more than a dozen as friends, family and volunteers come through the door to fold the papers, prepare the Tribune for mailing and maybe catch up on the week’s gossip.

Cousin Robbyne arrives with baby Hale. Putting five generations of the family in one room.

Wednesday afternoons have been like this for as long as anyone can remember.

“Earliest memory, probably when I was about 5 years old,” said Whitworth’s grandson, Kenneth.

“When you grow up, you have chores, you have to wash dishes and make up your bed and come to the Tribune and work,” explained Shaw-Gill.

“We’ve been folding paper since we could move,” said Klaudia.

“Haha. That’s not an option!” said the third triplet, Kaitlyn, when asked what happens if she has other plans for Wednesday afternoons.

She joined her mom to deliver stacks of papers to nearby convenience stores.

Mail Out Days, Wednesdays at the Tribune, are as much a part of life as going to church is on Sunday. part of life. It’s just what you do. Help spread the news.

“Just got to keep it tight. Keep it local. Good news spreading,” Klaudia said.

A relief to Whitworth, “It’s in the family now. I am in my 90s now, so you know I’m not gonna be doing it but so much longer.”

Another week, another Tribune.

“We will make sure it carries on. Granddaddy and Ms. Whitworth’s hard work will not be in vain,” Shaw-Gill said.

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