May 12, 2021 — Early next month, the Siuslaw News will see a familiar face withdraw from the public spotlight only to see another ascend.
After 23 years with the paper, Siuslaw News Editor Ned Hickson is capping his pen and stepping away from the editor’s desk in June. In his place, Features Editor Chantelle Meyer will be taking up the mantle.
Hickson said Meyer was the natural choice as she’s not only deserving, but ready for the role.
“One of my main considerations after deciding to leave was how to do so in a way that maintained the integrity and direction we have taken in recent years, while also holding onto and appreciating the rich history of our newspaper,” he said. “Few people understand the importance of those things more than Chantelle. It’s in her DNA.”
Siuslaw News Publisher Jenna Bartlett also expressed support.
“I am excited to have Chantelle lead the Siuslaw News editorial team and oversee the daily operations of our newsroom. She is ready,” Bartlett said. “She is passionate about bringing news that matters to our community and that shines through in her work. I am thrilled to have an editor with the integrity, reputation, expertise and vision of Chantelle, to lead the Siuslaw News forward as we continue to grow and expand.”
At 31 years old, Meyer is accepting the editor position with a self-awareness of her own youth, yet an eagerness to continue to build on nearly seven years of experience with the paper.
“It is a big deal,” she said. “I'm very excited about it and I acknowledge the huge responsibility behind it.”
Meyer has lived in Lane County for most of her life in small communities like Veneta and Fall Creek.
Bitten early by a drive to pen her thoughts, she majored in English and minored in communications at Concordia University in Portland, then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.
One day, family friend Cindy Wobbe mentioned Florence’s local paper was in need of a writer.
At this time, Meyer was still looking for “her life’s purpose,” she said. “My big goal was that I wanted a job where I could write.”
Meyer had worked with both her high school and college newspapers, so was already versed in skills such as page layout, photography and article writing, so had a sense of what a community paper might require.
Six to eight weeks of newspaper experience also seemed a good way to get the ball rolling on her writing career.
In May 2014, Meyer started as an intern at the Siuslaw News, writing a story or two here and there while helping put the paper together each week.
On the last day of her internship, the Siuslaw Public Library was holding its annual summer reading finale event. Because all other reporters were busy, the editor at the time, Theresa Baer, asked Meyer if she could cover the story.
“I was thinking, ‘Well, technically, I'm done at noon, but I can go,’” Meyer recalled.
Meyer grabbed her camera and set out to cover the event.
“And it was really my first on-the-ground experience,” she said. “Anytime somebody comes into the office and says, ‘Hey, I have a story for you. Come with me now,’ journalists just hop up and do it. So that was that moment for me.”
Despite it being her last day in town, Meyer found herself connecting with the people at the event as she caught moments of children enjoying face painting, water slides and free books. That day, Meyer typed up the story, handed it in and left Florence.
Back in eastern Lane County, she was staying with her family as her grandmother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Around this time, Baer let Meyer know she was retiring from the editor position and the paper would soon be needing another reporter. Meyer was at the top of the list.
However, Meyer declined in order to support her family and care for her grandmother. Shortly after, her grandmother passed.
In January, the newspaper contacted Meyer again, letting her know that she was still the top pick for the paper’s new reporter.
This time, Meyer felt she was ready.
“Nothing was holding me back from walking through, so I took this step,” she said. “So, my first and only career after completing my graduate degree has been working at the paper.”
A Reporter in Motion
Meyer’s new chapter started just as the City of Florence, too, was in transition. One of her first assignments was on the city beat, covering the changes to the little municipality.
The same week Meyer started in 2015, Joe Henry was sworn in as mayor; at her first city council meeting, a new city manager (which would end up being Erin Reynolds) was proposed to be hired; and Florence’s now-familiar “A City in Motion” slogan was launched.
Movement and growth were thematic to the time, Meyer recalled.
“We were all starting at the beginning of 2015 around the same time, so it was a really fun energy in Florence at the time, just a really fun forward momentum,” she said. “And I got to be part of that and write about it — to the point that they referred to me as the ‘good news reporter.’”
Looking back, Meyer attributes the positive response to her reporting partially to being a fresh arrival on the scene.
“There was zero outside knowledge — just what you are observing as a journalist,” she said.
Gradually, as she covered more issues, Meyer found that she could even touch on the contentious topics with finesse and tact.
“It became a very big deal to be sure that our coverage was neutral and politics weren't part of it. It's just reporting on the facts,” she explained. “Journalistic integrity is huge. You've got to have that and the ethics behind it.”
Per her creative writing background, Meyer was naturally drawn to feature writing, though.
Once a month, the Siuslaw News puts out a special section such as its Midcoast Wave Visitors’ Guide, Business Profile, School Zone or senior guide.
The editor at the time, Ryan Cronk, was responsible for much of the special section output, but Meyer gradually began taking over these tasks.
“So even though I was a reporter, I started doing more and more of the special sections,” she said. “That's when you get to do the fun page layout, the cool font or get to do a feature story, which is different than our feature sections.”
Building Bridges, Cultivating Community
In 2016, Cronk stepped away from the Siuslaw News and Ned Hickson, who had been the sports editor for the past 18 years, stepped up to take over as editor. But he came in with a different plan for the newsroom — part of which was promoting Meyer to features editor and a reliable second-in-command, allowing Hickson to focus more on the newsroom and expand its reporting.
The arrangement played off of each of their strengths, with Meyer managing final proofing and page layout while getting to focus on her love for feature writing.
“When I became editor, my first — and best — decision was to promote her to features editor, where she has done an exceptional job the past five years,” said Hickson.
Besides making her mark at the paper, Meyer has since affirmed her place in the community, joining the Kiwanis Club of Florence in 2017, having been named a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club of Florence and being honored by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 52 with a certificate of appreciation for her story about the City of Florence's quest to become a Coast Guard City.
“If you love what you do and your community, you get involved more and more,” she said.
In her transition to editor, Meyer looks forward to continuing to nurture the deep relationships in the community she’s already cultivated.
Nonprofits like RAIN (Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network) and local groups like CROW (Children's Repertory of Oregon Workshops) and the Last Resort Players have been meaningful elements of her reporting since the beginning, she said. CROW was her very first story as a full-time reporter.
Though proud of her accomplishments so far, Meyer pointed out that Hickson’s editorial and managerial guidance has been key to uncovering her own potential as a journalist.
“Ned is a friend and a mentor — like the fun uncle figure in my life,” she said. “Just a strong positive role model.”
Meyer highlighted Hickson’s approach of mediating conflict amid the frequently occurring tempests of news coverage as a major point of admiration.
“If you measure your tone and your phrasing, people are more likely to at least read what you write, even if they do disagree,” she said. “And it's more open, then, for somebody else to respond. That's one of Ned’s strengths — how he has encouraged that community communication.”
Meyer hopes to continue Hickson’s approach in this regard.
“I'm also a mediator, but please never yell at me,” she said with. “I want people to get along, but I also want things to be aired out and expressed and I think it's important that people have a chance to do that. So, I really plan to follow in his footsteps in a very strong way.”
Over the past several years, Meyer is also proud of the diversity of coverage the paper has committed itself to.
“I stand with our editorial series,” she said. “We've covered everything from gun laws, to LGBTQ issues to health care to the pandemic. … We've built a lot of trust in the community, which also means we've covered some stuff that's really hard.”
The coverage of a recent death in the community, she pointed out, was able to be told in a deep, yet delicate manner due to the paper’s relationship with the community.
“The people who were around it allowed me, as the reporter at the time, to meet with people who were part of the situation,” she said. “And that might not have happened a year ago. … And I don't want to betray that trust — I want to keep building on that.”
While aiming to retain all the elements which have made the Siuslaw News successful, Meyer also sees her new position as a way to add fresh perspective.
“I very much acknowledge that I'm young,” she said. “It's also important to me that diverse voices are included in a newspaper. Our community is diverse to a certain extent. We’re still in rural Oregon, but it's important that the people who live here and who are a part of community feel like they're represented in the newspaper.”
Part of her approach will be to build bridges, she said, as she presented her right forearm, where there is a tattooed silhouette of the Siuslaw River Bridge.
“As a newspaper, we want to represent our community and we want to help people know about our community,” she said. “And me personally, if I'm describing myself outside of my job, I describe myself as a storyteller and a community builder.”
Ultimately, Meyer hopes to see her role have an uplifting effect on the place she has grown to call home while keeping a firm foothold on community engagement.
“There are a lot of things that are going to continue in the way that people are familiar with,” she said. “I want to listen to what the community needs from us. And that's going to continue for sure.”
Meyer pointed to more than 130 years of the Siuslaw News serving the area and sees herself as adding to another chapter in a long, historical legacy of interpreting cultural dynamics and shifting values.
“Our paper has been here the whole time writing about how it has all affected our community,” she said. “That's going to continue, no matter who's editor.”