Melissa O’Brien

In this 60th year of production of The Charlotte News we will feature editorials from editors past. This edition features Melissa O’Brien who served in 2008.

Melissa O’Brien | Former Charlotte News Editor

What a wonderful and tremendous thing that The Charlotte News is celebrating 60 years of existence. This community is fortunate to have sustained its own homegrown, hometown newspaper for that long, especially at a time when so many newspapers are struggling to stay alive.

It is, for certain, a testimony to the fabric of this community and the values it holds. This is definitely a moment for a little back patting. Well done, citizens of Charlotte! Newspapers matter, and you have been wise to keep supporting yours. The Charlotte News is one of the many things that makes Charlotte unique—reason enough to have kept this precious paper floating all of these years.

When I first came to the paper it was to write a story about a couple who were visiting from Mississippi. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Charlotte formed a partnership with Lumberton, Mississippi, and created a symbiotic relationship in which donated goods (I think we actually sent a piano down at one point … can someone verify this?) went south and humans traveled back and forth to visit and to create a bond between our two towns. It was a beautiful moment in time, and because I had been asked to write an article, I got to spend an afternoon with a pastor from Lumberton and his wife. It’s entirely possible that the seeds for my current life as a UCC pastor were planted in my time with them, so much did I enjoy their company and so impressed was I by their faith and devotion to their community. The Charlotte News may have had a role in the tremendous vocational shift that I experienced a few years ago when a series of strange and unexpected events inspired me toward hospital and hospice chaplaincy, seminary and ultimately to the pulpit of the Pawlet Community Church. Who knows?

I wrote the article about the visiting pastor and then I wrote more articles. Then for a while I had a regular column called “Notes From 957.” I took photos for the paper, too, and when Robbie Stanley decided to step away from the editorship in 2008 she asked me if I would be interested in the position.

“Well,” I thought, “I don’t really know anything about being an editor, but … sure, why not?”

And that’s how I came to know the realities of being the editor of a newspaper in a small town.

Here is what I learned in my shortish tenure: People here are passionate—about their politics, about their land, about their events, their school and about their paper. This town is full of some of the most interesting, kind, intelligent, creative and devoted people I have ever met. And I would not have met so many of them had it not been for my role as editor of the paper.

It was during my time as editor when one or two other papers crept in on the scene, and at the office we kind of looked around and said, “Huh? Wait, what?” We didn’t really know what to think. We thought Charlotte was too small a town to support more newspapers. The reality is, of course, that competition is good. It can shake things up and wake people up. It helped us focus and made us realize we had to look to the future. When you’re no longer the only game in town, you have to dust your shelves more frequently.

The thing I loved about being the editor wasn’t being the editor. As it turned out, I wasn’t very good at being an editor. I’m not much for details; I tend to let things slide. What I loved about being the editor was the people. I loved meeting people out in the community, and I loved the people I worked with. Linda Williamson and Pati Naritomi and I laughed a lot in those days. Robbie, too, who blessedly hung around to help me when I needed help, which turned out to be a lot of the time. I have no idea how we had so much fun creating a newspaper, working under a deadline, trying to get the thing together and looking good, but we did. And then we turned around and did it again, and again.

And, too, I loved seeing our paper out in the world, on newsstands. I was always very proud of what we created, of the communal effort it took to turn all those stories and photographs and advertisements into a tangible reality every other week. I have always loved the tactile experience of reading a newspaper; it was that much more meaningful and satisfying when I had a role in actually producing the paper.

To this day I am proud to say that I was once a newspaper editor. I was proud to have been a part of the story when we turned 50; I am delighted to be part of the celebration as this Little Paper That Could turns 60, and I look forward to its continued evolution in the years to come.