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Kelly Merritt: Now who am I and why am I here? Waking up in a dream job

THIS journey of life can take you down some interesting roads.

Here I was cruising comfortably down such a road, working with Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill and Division of Science and Research Director Jan Taylor when a sign on that imaginary highway appeared: "Unique opportunity ahead."

That opportunity was the editorial page editor position at the Charleston Daily Mail.

"What a cool job that would be," I thought, while blowing off the idea because I'd never worked for a daily newspaper before.

Sure, during 30 years as a professional communicator, I had always worked closely with newspaper reporters and editors. Trained as a journalist, I'd been a newspaper stringer, had drafted hundreds of news releases, and been involved with countless interviews.

But I still didn't have that daily deadline experience, so I blew it off.

Yet the idea kept popping into my head.

"You write editorials in your head everyday," I told myself. "No, they wouldn't be interested."

After a week of such internal argument, I finally thought: "What the heck, I've got nothing to lose. I'll call Brad."

Brad as in McElhinny, the managing editor at the time and now, with the retirement of editor and publisher Nanya Friend, the guy in charge.

If you've never met Brad McElhinny, you should know that he is the type of guy who is amazingly easy to talk to. I got to know Brad when he was a cub reporter for the Daily Mail and I was spokesperson for Columbia Gas in Charleston.

So I made the phone call.

Before I knew it, he was inviting me to join him and Nanya for lunch. That went well, and then he invited me to a meeting with the current editorial page staff and to sit in on an editorial board meeting.

The next thing I saw was Brad's name on my caller ID and he was offering me the job.

Wow. The opportunity is exciting, yet daunting. Some extremely qualified and competent people have held this position before me.

My immediate predecessor is Johanna Maurice, who has expertly drafted editorials for this newspaper since the 1980s. Also on the staff is the very skillful editorial writer and columnist Don Surber, who has a wide following.

A few opinion editors before Johanna was her father, Jack Maurice, the only West Virginia journalist to ever win a Pulitzer Prize.

Daunting. Challenging. And sobering.

In one aspect, the move from a public relations role to the news business may not be all that big a transition. Throughout the years, I've been fascinated with local issues and the gathering and disseminating of news.

Growing up in south Louisiana as the child of a Carbider, my parents, Frances and the late Skeeter Merritt, instilled a desire to be informed and participate in the community.

Some of my earliest memories are of our family poring over the pages of the New Orleans Time Picayune for the day's news and sports, and watching the evening news later.

Mom and Dad were lightly involved in local politics.

I remember them coming home from a meeting to plan the campaign of a Republican neighbor named Lucky. Dad was excited about the campaign slogan they had come up with: "Be happy; Go Lucky."

Their involvement in politics and my learning about it came at a time when liberals and conservatives got along. Or so it seemed to me. I don't remember the name calling of people with different views or the divisive battles along party lines.

It's that style of political thought that I've always liked about the Daily Mail.

Its focus is limited government, preservation of individual liberty and economic growth. Editorially, it generally stays positive and promotes civil discourse of issues.

So now I get to be a part of it. It's a dream job that I never dreamed of having, but I'm really excited to be here.

My goal in this job is to encourage discussion of issues important to the people of my adopted home state of West Virginia.

But enough about me. Let me hear from you.

Merritt is editorial page editor of the Daily Mail. He may be reached at 304 348-4802 or by email at Follow him on Twitter @ekmerritt.


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