After three years at the Alexandria Times, editor Cody Mello-Klein is saying goodbye to the paper he’s helped steer through a pandemic and more.
Mello-Klein joined as a reporter at the end of 2018 and was a reporter for all of 2019 and 2020, then was promoted to managing editor at the end of 2020.
“It’s been a great experience,” Mello-Klein said. “As a general assignment reporter, you have to learn to be fluent in a little bit of everything. I’m a naturally curious person, so I liked the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of topics I had no clue about from people who are way more qualified than I am.”
Local politics was one of those fields Mello-Klein said he came into the city with little background in.
“There are seemingly jargony code and zoning requirements that really shape policy and shape people’s lives,” Mello-Klein said. “That’s become interesting to me. I remember groaning when I got my first assignment at the City Council, but then you show up and you’re like ‘oh this is actually kind of interesting.'”
The job at the Alexandria Times was ever-changing, Mello-Klein said, from remote work at the start of the pandemic to shifting into an editorial role.
“It was a series of transitions and rapid lessons; some hard-learned lessons,” Mello-Klein said. “The hardest stuff for me during the pandemic was [in-person interviews] are such a tool for us, being able to read someone across the table from you, especially for profiles where ticks and mannerisms become part of the story.”
While his passion is for the writing side of the field, Mello-Klein said parts of the editor job he came to love included working with interns and figuring out the weekly puzzle of putting the stories into the right layout for a print publication.
“Part of the editor job I didn’t expect liking that I did end up liking the most was actually interns,” Mello-Klein said. “We’ve been lucky — we’re getting back into intern season now — we’ve had people great people come through, like grad students from schools in D.C. who have since become editors themselves or students from local high schools. It’s been great to help foster the next group of local journalists. A lot of people are focused on writing for the Washington Post or writing for the New York Times, but we need good local reporters.”
Mello-Klein said the Alexandria Times was also unique in giving him and other reporters resources to pursue in-depth investigative pieces.
“I’ve really enjoyed our ability to go in-depth on stuff: that’s been the greatest gift at the Times,” Mello-Klein said. “Space and time is always a premium, but we do have a little bit more space and a little bit more time than some publications, especially for the investigative work that we do. I think that’s distinguished us locally; I know that’s the work that I really enjoy doing.”
Some of those stories come with pushback, which Mello-Klein says has seemingly gotten more intense over the last couple of years.
“Over the last two years, the city has become pretty divided on a lot of issues,” Mello-Klein said. “This may have been the case before I came here, but I don’t know if it was accelerated by the pandemic or how the Trump administration polarized national politics and that trickled down, but I try not to think about how my stories would be interpreted because I think if I did I would just crawl into a hole and not publish anything.”
On the other side, Mello-Klein said he was surprised how many local officials were willing to discuss stories and stay cordial, even after stories that didn’t put them in the best light.
“To be honest, the people I would have assumed I’d have gotten more pushback on stories I wrote, like City Council members or School Board members, were more open to talking about things than I’d expected,” Mello-Klein said. “I’d done some work writing about Boston city politics and I more often than not didn’t get responses or got iron-clamped lips when I asked about things. But when I got here I was surprised at how willing certain people were to talk and afterward how willing people were to engage about something I wrote. Whether or not they agreed, I always liked talking about the stories.”
This week was Mello-Klein’s last at the paper. He recently got married and said that he and his wife wanted to move back to Boston; in part because it’s home, but also because of Alexandria’s cost of living.
“Now that we’re married we’ve been thinking more actively about what our future would be and where our future will be,” Mello-Klein said, “and it’s untenable living here, especially on a journalist’s salary and a public school teacher’s salary.”
Mello-Klein’s background is an eclectic mix of local news along with video game journalism at outlets like IGN and Kotaku. Now he will be taking a job at Northeastern University, his alma matter, localizing national and international news by highlighting the experiences and expertise of students and staff at the school.
“It’s an environment I’m more familiar with and it’s a new newsroom culture,” Mello-Klein said. “It will allow me to focus more on writing, which by default I’ve had to do less of with taking over the editor role.”
Despite the change in scenery, Mello-Klein said the lessons he learned as a reporter and editor at the Alexandria Times will stick with him.
“It’s allowed me to learn new skills and do things I wouldn’t have otherwise been doing,” Mello-Klein said. “Even though I’ll be a reporter again at Northeastern, I don’t think the lessons I learned in terms of management and how to deal with all these different personalities and bringing them together week after week… I don’t think that’s going away. It’s certainly made me more patient in dealing with people.”
Below are some of the stories Mello-Klein said he was most proud of:
- Going for gold: Legendary goalkeeper Briana Scurry reflects on peaks and valleys of storied career
- Ready player won: How NOVA’s esports program found unexpected success during the pandemic
- Jones Point Park live action roleplayers fight with foam swords, create community
- COVID-19 hits Chirilagua hard
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