Dale for chamber

News of Orange Managing Editor Dale Edwards

BREAKING: I’m two years in at the News of Orange, and I still love this job and this area of the state. I’m planning on staying for a while, but I’m not planning to write a self-congratulatory column about it each year. But, for now, I’d like to draw attention to some of the differences I’ve experienced in year two compared with year one. I’d also like to point out some achievements for the News of Orange that have happened over the last 12 months.

Perhaps the biggest, most noticeable difference I’ve seen this year compared with 2020 has been weddings. My desk at the News of Orange headquarters, which is directly across from the Old Orange County Courthouse, overlooks the iconic building. Almost every day — sometimes multiple times a day — I watch couples and their families gather in front of the two doors of the courthouse to exchange vows and begin together a new stage of their journey.

Their faces beam with happiness and hopefulness. It never fails to bring a smile to my face, same way with my co-worker. The processions run the gamut of informal (jeans and t-shirts), to semi-formal (jacket, tie, dress) to formal (tuxedos and wedding gown). Sometimes it looks like the families are meeting for the first time, and introductions are hastily made. Even from a distance you can see the mix of emotions.

I’ve been impressed with the gorgeous flower arrangements and the thoughtfulness of the photographers for creating and capturing memorable images.

For the last two years, for better or for worse, we’ve all been married to a pandemic. It’s been nice to see that so many people have decided to push aside the shadow of Covid, and make room in their lives for someone else.

High school sports mostly returned. Some schools still opted to delay or cancel seasons, and the sports that were played still felt different. Wins and losses are part of the game, but just getting the opportunity to again gather as teams was a victory, regardless of the score.

Other extracurricular activities — marching band, chorus, theater — returned, and further gave the Orange County community opportunities to show their pride in the many talented youths of the school district.

In my first year, I heard a lot about the uniquely Hillsborough events that happen annually. For instance, the Solstice Celebration Lantern Walk, and the Handmade Parade, Hog Day, and Last Friday Art Walks. Covid cancelled the traditional versions of these events, but some returned in 2021. The Lantern Walk was fantastic, as were the Last Friday Art Walks. I was excited for my first Hog Day, but that was nixed shortly before the event. Hopefully, the new year will mark the return of even more of these traditions.

Another of my favorite experiences in my second year was the mural project on the side of the News of Orange building. Few things say “Hillsborough” like the word “Hillsborough.” It’s a splash of sunshine, even on the rainiest of days. A sight I will never forget was a group of kids in their Halloween costumes with paint brushes in their hands, pitching in on the giant work of art, guaranteeing they will always be able to say, “See that? I did that part.”

Breaking news isn’t easy in a weekly publication, particularly one this small. But, the News of Orange had its fair share of exclusives, including a potential Cook-Out restaurant; an Aldi grocery store; the sale of Maple View Farm land; and the passing of PHE founder, Phil Harvey. The paper was also one of the first to report on the lawsuit filed by Eno River Farm LLC against Keegan Czesak, who had been managing the operation. That lawsuit has since been withdrawn.

The paper won three N.C. Press Association Awards, by my accounts, the most it has earned in one year. The awards include first place for Appearance and Design, which I believe was the paper’s first-ever top place finish. The 2021 NCPAs have been delayed until early this year, and I’m hoping we surpass the three awards.

I have written close to 200 stories over the last 12 months for print and online. “Pandemic” is the word that continues to dominate content. I look forward to that no longer being the case.

If I consider the number of weddings taking place across the street to be the most notable difference, coming in a close second would be the level of traffic on the highway. The pandemic has been terrible in so, so many ways, but I can’t complain about the effect it had on my commute. For months, Interstate 40/85 was relatively clear and stress-free. That is no longer the case. Vehicles are everywhere, and stress levels are up again. I find “road rage” to be a waste of energy, but many others clearly do not.

What hasn’t changed from my first to second year driving to and from Hillsborough is what I see on the side of the road. Mattresses, chairs, coolers, ladders, about a billion hard hats, gas cans, and bumpers. Strangest things I’ve seen? A basketball backboard and goal, and what looked like a former display of autumn decorations: five or six plastic pumpkins, corn stalks, bales of hay, and a scarecrow spread all over the side of the highway. Each day for about a month, over a stretch of about 200 yards, it was like I-40 was yelling, “Happy Fall Y’all,” to travelers.

My plan is to continue coming to the office of the News of Orange County, and continuing to wed the community paper with the community that cherishes it so much.