In addition to being the newspaper’s best writer and a national freelancer, Beth Macy blogs at Intrepid Paper Girl, where she talks about, among many other funny and insightful things, the Honest Hair Club and that “I’m 45, if you must know, of black Irish heritage, and I spotted my first gray hair at 16.” (Well, 47 now.)
Q. What are a Nieman Fellowship, the Casey Medals, Southern Journalism Awards and Columbia University Excellence Awards?
A. Just four of the prestigious recognition/achievement realms of Beth Macy, the writer chosen by our readers – in true duh! voting – as Best at The Roanoke Times.
And what are O: The Oprah Magazine, Parade, The Christian Science Monitor and Seventeen?
Just four national publications where said writer’s work can also be read, beginning in Seventeen when she was not much older than that, and in recent editions of both Parade and O.
A Nieman Fellowship? That’s where you (and your family in Macy’s case) move to Boston for a year, attend Harvard for free, hang out with 23 other high-level journalists and then come back to your job in Roanoke.
The ‘09 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism? Macy’s “Age of Uncertainty” series brought her a $1,000 first-prize award, which she promptly gave to the subject of one of the stories.
If you haven’t read the piece in O on former Times copy-editor-supreme Lynn Forbish and you have an opening in your day to cry for awhile, here it is.
Meanwhile back here in Roanoke, we know Beth Macy as “just” a newspaper writer who since 1989 has been a general reporter, family columnist, general features writer, “Front Burner” food columnist and post-Nieman demon back on the family beat.
Maybe we remember her as the reporter who last year waded into cholera, rioting and logistical nightmares in Haiti – a genuinely life-threatening situation – and came back to characterize it as “a nail-biter of a trip.”
That trip also provided a reminder that her reporting work has nearly always championed the underdog and the downtrodden. And been carried out with an intimacy borne not only of strong, polished, insightful writing in every single piece, but also a sort of innate inability not to fall in love with her subjects.
There’s that, and also a passion for her profession that she put this way in an AJR piece: “There are days when I still can’t believe I get paid to drive around, talk to people and then write stories about what I’ve seen and heard, smelled and felt.”
It’s that feeling part that sets Beth Macy’s work apart from most everybody else’s.
Two small bits of disclosure: One, I count Beth Macy as a friend. And two, on the day I left a message on her work phone for information on this short piece, I also left one for James Taylor; I was far more nervous about talking to the highly accomplished star journalist than to the highly accomplished star singer-songwriter.