EAST LONGMEADOW — Payton North, Reminder Publishing’s executive editor, was visiting and laughing with friends when she got a call that she had won the Outstanding Young Alumni Achievement Award from Western New England University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

It was the third such call this spring.

“I remember saying, ‘It’s a three-peat.’ I couldn’t believe it. This is overwhelming,” she said.

North had already won a Rising Star Award from the Association of Community Publishers, and BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty recognition. North, 28, is one of the youngest winners of the Western Massachusetts business publication’s annual award.

“I knew I was nominated for all of them, but I didn’t think I would get any of these awards,” she said. “When I read through the folks who won the 40 Under Forty award, and everything they do for our community, I was in awe. The fact that I was selected to be one of the 40 is such an honor, because every single one of these people is doing amazing work.”

North joined Reminder Publishing in 2017 as an assistant editor. She was named executive editor in 2022.
According to the National Newspaper Association, there are more than 7,000 non-daily newspapers and more than 1,400 daily newspapers in the United States. Media researcher Zippia reports, there are more than 43,300 news editors in the U.S. — 54% are men. The average age of an editor is 43.

Reminder Publishing is a member of the Association of Community Publishers. North was one of only a handful of journalists who received the association’s Rising Star Award recently at the organization’s annual conference.
“She’s one of our rising stars,” said Loren Colburn, executive director emeritus of the association. “They are the most impressive group we’ve ever had. It’s a bright view of our industry when we see young people of that quality coming in.”

While North is receiving accolades, there are pitfalls and hurdles to being a young, successful woman. She credits Reminder Publishing with recognizing and supporting young talent, male and female — but she said that’s not always the case outside the office.

“When people see a young, blonde woman and they find out she’s the boss, it’s not always received well,” she said. “I’m confident in my work. I know I work hard and I’m in my position for a reason. I am competent. If someone says, ‘I was expecting a man,’ I just move on, and do my job.”

The WNE and BusinessWest awards recognize not only the achievement of businesswomen and -men across the four western counties, but also how they serve their communities. North volunteers her time at Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding Center in East Longmeadow. She is also among 100 people who read local newspaper articles to Valley Eye Radio’s visually impaired audience.

“We are on 24 hours a day, every day, so we are completely reliant on volunteers,” said Harold Anderson, the nonprofit’s program director.

“If we did not have volunteers, there would be no reason for me to be here. It’s the volunteers that make it happen. There’s no way I could do this by myself. We rely on them to do their work, and we’re grateful for their help.”

BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty award program nearly two decades ago. Editor Joe Bednar said it has become a valued and coveted award. A panel of five judges picked North, and 39 others, mostly older than 30, as winners out of 110 nominees.

“We get a lot of nominations for really worthy folks that don’t make the cut, because there’s so much competition. There are so many really strong nominations of people achieving a lot in their jobs and contributing a great deal to the community,” he said. “It’s extra impressive for someone in their 20s to receive this recognition.”

North said she always knew she wanted to be a journalist, but not necessarily an editor. She attended Monson High School but couldn’t begin her career as a student journalist because the school had no newspaper — so she wrote about it in what she thought was a lost essay.

“In my sophomore year, I wrote a paper about how I thought I wanted to be an editor one day. I still don’t remember writing that paper, but my mom recently found it and showed it to me. I was surprised because I honestly had no idea that editing was on my radar, until I became one,” she said.

North oversees the production of nine weekly newspapers, a daily and magazines that issue regular and special editions. Reminder Publishing’s total reach is 150,000 homes, and many more actual readers. She manages a staff of 19 full- and part-time employees, along with more than a dozen freelance reporters and photographers.

As head of The Reminder’s newsroom, she has recently helped develop and launch a new website, podcast and weekly newspaper in Enfield. While North has had a lot on her plate, she’s quick to credit others at the table.

“This news team is second to none. Every time we have a new project, there’s not a single moment I worry about getting it done. It’s nice to work with people just as passionate and dedicated to bringing the news to people,” she said.

When North told her parents early on that she wanted to be a journalist, they warned her to be wary of personal time lost to the news business.

“I’ve put blood, sweat and tears into my work. I always knew I would put in long hours and work really hard. It will seep into nights, holidays and weekends,” she said.

North said the notion of working so many hours caused her to think carefully about time away from her “tight-knit” family — cracking jokes and dining together every Sunday. She has been able to strike a balance between life and the work she said is so vital.

“We’re the watchdogs for residents — how are your tax dollars being spent? What happened at the last school committee meeting? What businesses are coming to town and how is that going to affect the community? People are busy, they have jobs, families, kids and everything else filling their time. They don’t have the ability to sit in at every meeting. Our job is to fill that void so people can stay informed,” she said.

North succeeded G. Michael Dobbs, who had been with the publishing group for more than two decades. He is now a freelance writer and columnist, enjoying the accomplishments and praise his protégé is receiving.

“The newspaper business is a challenging one with changes in the industry coming almost daily,” said the former executive editor. “Every paper needs a person at the head of the news operation who understands the business, knows the readership and is very familiar with the region. Payton certainly meets those criteria.”

When asked, “So how’s she doing?” Dobbs, who freely expresses his point of view in opinion columns, hesitated. “She certainly doesn’t need affirmation from me, but I’m proud of what she is doing,” he said. “Payton has been an impressive journalist from the start of her time at The Reminder and continues to impress.”

When North is in the office, she is head down at her desk, focusing on the task at hand, not the enormity of her role. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

“When I started out in print journalism, I didn’t think about people actually picking up the paper. The only ones I had ever seen read my articles were my parents,” she said.

But when North walked into a coffee shop and saw a man reading an article she had written, it all sunk in.

“I hope I proofread that story really well,” she remembered saying to herself. “There’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. We do take our responsibility to the community super seriously, and want to be the best we can, because we’re doing them a service.”

Staasi Heropoulos
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