The Central Virginian

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Growing up with the weekly newspaper

Posted on Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

Chan Powell is one of a few children who grew up with The Central Virginian, literally.

His mother, Hilda Miller, began working at The CV as a bookkeeper and receptionist after graduating from Louisa County High School in 1959.

By the time Powell was born in 1971, his mother had become  a reporter at the newspaper.

She worked on writing assignments from home and returned to the office after Powell entered kindergarten. But Powell said he was fortunate to be involved in his mother’s journalism career beginning at an early age.

“I was always tagging along with my mom,” he said. “I always remember the paper was just always there. It was always a part of life.”

Powell said he enjoyed spending time at the newspaper with his mother, her co-workers and their children.

Cahthy Collins, a former reporter, editor and publisher of The CV, often brought her children Jennifer and Billy to work with her.

“We literally grew up in the paper,” Powell said.

When Powell was a young boy, five women prepared the weekly edition of The CV by hand.

They attended meetings, conducted interviews, took photographs and laid out the paper using a method called paste-up. An early, mechanical precursor to modern-day desktop publishing, paste-up required cutting blocks of type and pasting the copy and photos to pages using glue or wax, then taking a photo and using the negative to create printing plates, before sending it to the press.

As The Central Virginian children aged, they began to help out around the office, carrying heavy ledger books to the storage closet, assisting with layout and, on occasion, taking photographs.

“I used to always love the camera,” Powell said. “We had the old Polaroids, and I started out being the one that shook the photo to make it develop.”

He often attended grand openings for local businesses and other community events with his mother, who was covering them for the newspaper.

When Powell was about 7 years old, his mother asked him to hold the camera for a moment.

“I just took a photo even though I wasn’t supposed to,” he said. “And it was a good photo.”

It was his first experience with photography.

Miller allowed her son to take many more photos through the years, but the young boy was not interested in photography at the time. His love for the art would develop years later.

“I enjoyed doing it because it allowed me to spend time with my mom,” he said. “It just morphed into something that I was good at.”

Powell, who volunteers as an athletic assistant for Louisa County Public Schools and helps run the school’s concession stands, began taking sports photos to help promote students in December 2010 and started his own photography business in July 2012. He is also a regular contributor to The CV. 

Powell said he has many fond memories of the time he spent with his mother, her co-workers and their children at the newspaper.

“But one of the things that impressed me the most was in the late 80s when the women went from doing the paper by hand to doing the paper by computer, basically over the course of one summer,” he said. “That was just the most incredible thing in the world.”