Enterprise editor wins Golden Quill

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

In her acceptance speech for the Golden Quill, Hale-Spencer spoke of her life-long love of the Helderbergs and of the importance in this era of climate change of preserving open space.

Enterprise editor Melissa Hale-Spencer won the Golden Quill award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper editors for her Feb. 6, 2020 editorial, “In the sale of Picard’s Grove, what’s done in haste will be repented at leisure.”

She is the first woman in the competition’s 60-year history to claim the award twice and the only New Yorker to have won. In the society’s annual contest, opinion writers are judged for their editorial skills and courage, with the best of the top dozen — for which Hale-Spencer has been selected 10 times — winning the Golden Quill.

The awards were announced at the society’s annual convention, held remotely from Reno, Nevada, last week.

In her acceptance speech, Hale-Spencer spoke of her life-long love of the Helderbergs and of the importance in this era of climate change of preserving open space.

The award-winning editorial was part of a series Hale-Spencer wrote after the owner of Picard’s Grove — long a community gathering place at the foot of the Helderbergs — was declared “incapcitated” and placed in a nursing home.

The court-appointed attorney was set to sell her 87-acre property quickly to a developer while tearing down the historic farmhouse and barn. Ultimately, the property was conserved with an easement when the judge selected a neighboring couple — with a better offer — as the purchasers.

“This editorial drew me in from the beginning, as it captured the essence of that special subscriber who everyone knows in the local newspaper office,” wrote the contest judge, Rhonda Clark, a former long-time newspaper reporter in Missouri and Oklahoma, and a communications professor. “It also captured the oddity related to the declared incapacity of this particular subscriber, the potential sale of her family farm, and the sale’s impact on the local community.

“The editorial provides excellent background information on the 87-acre farm and its contents, and the questions that arise about the lawyer in charge of disposing of the property to a developer. This begins as an individual’s story that turns into a community issue.

“Not only is the local community about to lose centuries-old structures, but the environmental impact to the area could affect future generations. Hale-Spencer ends with a course of action to examine ways to preserve the past and future of the towns and villages of Albany County. The editorial is lengthy, but each graph advances at a pace that enhances the urgency to halt this sale.”

Hale-Spencer, 68, has worked at The Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post for more than three-and-a-half decades and became a co-publisher in July 2015. She purchased the paper with her husband, Gary Spencer, and with Marcello Iaia from longtime publisher and printer James Gardner. She and Iaia run The Enterprise.

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.”

Editorials written by Hale-Spencer are accompanied every week by illustrations from artist Carol Coogan. Her drawing for the prize-winning editorial featured a chest overflowing with Helderberg treasures. Rich Mendoza wrote the headline.

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 also began a career in journalism.

Hale-Spencer started writing for The Enterprise as a young mother of two daughters in the 1980s. Magdalena and Saranac are both are alumnae of Cornell University: Saranac, a philosophy major, is a reporter for factcheck.org in Philadelphia; Magdalena, with degrees in law and veterinary medicine, is an intellectual properties lawyer.

Hale-Spencer 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.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have a newspaper that brought people in our community together to solve a problem,” Hale-Spencer said in her acceptance speech. She said she is also grateful for the dedicated Enterprise staff, contributors, and readers.

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