Enterprise editor named to international Golden Dozen of editorial writers

For the seventh time, Enterprise editor Melissa Hale-Spencer was recognized among the best opinion writers in the weekly press.

The Golden Dozen awards were officially announced last week in Melbourne, Australia, during the 2016 conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. In the society's annual contest, opinion writers are judged for their editorial skills and courage, with the best of the top dozen winning the Golden Quill award.

Hale-Spencer was awarded for the editorial “The sun can’t shine in Westerlo until public servants stop breaking the law,” about the importance of New York’s open government laws and how local officials broke them. The same editorial helped win first place awards in editorials and community leadership in the 2015 New York Press Association Better Newspaper competition.

Hale-Spencer, 63, has edited The Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post for 20 years and became a co-publisher in July 2015.

Hale-Spencer was first named to the Golden Dozen in 1999. In 2008, she won the Golden Quill, for the editorial “We, the people, are responsible for what our government does.”

The Golden Quill was awarded this year to Mike Buffington, co-publisher and editor of The Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Georgia. His editorial, “Newspaper isn’t a mouthpiece for government,” laid out his role in the community in light of a city council discussion about how to avoid the newspaper after two or three years of its editorials questioning controversial decisions.

Dr. Kristy Hess, leader of community and local media research at Deakin University in Australia, judged the Golden Dozen contest this year.

“As Buffington argues with authority, the newspaper’s role is more than just a positive mouthpiece for local government or to simply cover up issues that might leave an unpleasant taste in the mouths of readers,” Hess wrote.

Hale-Spencer’s winning editorial pointed out the newspaper’s role through the public’s right to know. Explaining two of New York’s laws — the Freedom Of Information Law and the Open Meetings Law — she outlined how elected Westerlo officials avoided scrutiny by illegally closing off access to records about cost estimates for a building project that was expected to raise taxes, and by meeting to discuss it without public notice.

“The author cleverly links local decisions to the sunshine laws, drawing on inspiring quotes from history and research that highlight the importance of residents having the right to understand how government operates and the importance of journalism in this process,” Hess wrote.

Editorials written by Hale-Spencer are accompanied every week by illustrations from artist Carol Coogan.

Hale-Spencer graduated from Guilderland High School, where she was an editor at The Journal, and from Wellesley College, where she wrote for The Wellesley News.

She learned to write from her father, a lifelong newspaperman. She took her first reporting job when her parents called on her to help at their Adirondack weekly, The Lake Placid News, where her future husband, Gary Spencer, also began a career in journalism.

Hale-Spencer started writing for The Enterprise as a young mother of two daughters in the 1980s. She introduced the first regular, strongly-worded editorials to The Enterprise, writing them as a part-time reporter covering the Helderberg Hilltowns and assumed the masthead in 1996 as co-editor with fellow staff writer Andrew Schotz.

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