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Other Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 21, 2005

Hale-Spencer honored by ISWNE

ALTAMONT — For the third time, an Enterprise editorial written by Melissa Hale-Spencer has been chosen as one of the Golden Dozen by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

"We’re extremely proud to have won an award of this caliber yet again," said Enterprise publisher James Gardner. "We, as a newspaper and as a community, owe thanks to Hale-Spencer for her intense devotion to good journalism."

ISWNE was founded in 1954 to encourage and promote high standards of editorial writing, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and to foster freedom of the press in all nations. Each year, it holds a competition for non-daily opinion and editorial writing. The top entry is given the Golden Quill, and 11 others are chosen to make up the rest of the Golden Dozen.

The awards were made at an annual conference, held this year the week of July 4 in Alberta, Canada; ISWNE paid the conference and hotel costs for Hale-Spencer to attend.

This year’s contest was judged by Walter Nagel, a senior writer at The Calgary Herald who now teaches journalism at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

In discussing the purpose of editorials, Nagel said, "We can keep alive ideas which are useful parts of the social agenda where we live and work."

He also said, "Indeed, we should approach our readers with humility, as well as confidence. We appeal to emotions, and also to intellect. We may entertain, educate, seek to provoke additional thought, and even — sometimes — elicit vociferous debate and productive counter-argument."


The winner of the 2005 Golden Quill was Bill Lueders, news editor of Isthmus, a weekly published in Madison, Wis. Nagel called Lueders’s Independence Day editorial "a cry from the heart of a troubled land."

Other entries chosen for the Golden Dozen came from Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and California in the United States and from Nova Scotia, Alberta, and the Yukon in Canada.

The winning Enterprise editorial, "Letter to Jordan," ran on July 15, 2004. It is addressed to the three young sons of Shokriea and Ali Yaghi, who had joined their father in Jordan as their mother, an American citizen who came to the United States to escape the war in Afghanistan, fought for her husband’s return.

The judge wrote that Hale-Spencer’s "open letter" becomes "a personalized way to convey the editor’s heartsick dismay about how some of the United States’ newest citizens have been treated.

He goes on, "Three youngsters...fall victim to hysterical overreaction after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. What makes them vulnerable, of course, is nothing more than Arabic names and appearances....The father is rounded up and deported without any pretense of due process. The little family is shattered."

Nagel concludes, "Instead of rant, this editor chose the powerful language of restraint, dignity, reason, appeal and apology for a touching communiqué from ‘your country.’ It superficially goes to three children in Jordan, but the message really is directed toward just about everyone else."

Hale-Spencer recalled, "I first saw Shokriea Yaghi at a Guilderland Town Board meeting and was impressed with her courage and dignity. Nicole Fay Barr, a skilled and insightful reporter, followed up with an in-depth interview, detailing the Yaghis’ plight.

"This editorial was not popular in some quarters. We received complaints and had subscriptions canceled. I was called unpatriotic. But, as always, Jim and Wanda Gardner stood behind the editorial staff."

Hale-Spencer concluded, "It was gratifying to be recognized by our peers and, in my speech at Edmonton, I told my fellow editors that a patriot is someone who questions and speaks her mind, and I believe this is the essential role of a journalist in a democracy."


Hale-Spencer was first named to the Golden Dozen for her March 5, 1998 editorial, "Celebrating a life," which, the judge wrote, helped to lift the stigma against suicide.

She was named to the Golden Dozen a second time for her March 29, 2001 editorial, "Workers can’t wait," which detailed the plight of a local spray painter as a means of exploring President George W. Bush’s repeal of ergonomic regulations.

"Noting that it took a decade to prepare the legislation that the President undid," the contest judge wrote, "the editorial concludes that workers shouldn’t have to wait another 10 years for someone to address what has become the nation’s largest work-place safety problem."

Hale-Spencer has written for The Enterprise for 16 years. She has won many awards for her work from the New York Press Association, ranging from columns and editorials to in-depth news and features.

She got her first reporting job at her parents’ Adirondack weekly newspaper, The Lake Placid News, in 1975.

She said that her father, Ed Hale, taught her how to write by editing her work "with a thick black copy pencil."

"I grew up believing words could change the world," said Hale-Spencer.

She is a 1971 graduate of Guilderland High School and a 1975 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College.

She is married to Gary Hale Spencer; they have two children, Magdalena and Saranac.

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