LACONIA — When Julie Hirshan Hart was 14, she worked after school at her family’s newspaper to the north — The Conway Daily Sun — writing birth announcements and readying letters to the editor for publication.
She didn’t intend to make journalism her career, although that was her major at Flagler College in Florida. For years, Hirshan Hart worked in nonprofit administration, but a desire for change called her back to her roots.
Now, Hirshan Hart is the succession plan for The Laconia Daily Sun — the center of its future.
“I’m very proud to be the second generation working at the paper,” she says. “I grew up in a newspaper office. Many people in the Conway office are still the same faces I was seeing when I was growing up. That is a testament to the environment that has been created here in Laconia and at our sister paper.”
The COVID pandemic cast such a long shadow over the Laconia daily that the newspaper’s 20th anniversary in 2020 went largely unnoticed, but the paper has emerged from the strife stronger than ever, with Hirshan Hart in the role of editor.
She oversees all facets of assigning and producing news. As two reporters transition out of the newsroom, Hirshan Hart now leads a team with a new makeup, a team of experienced professionals trained in solutions journalism — reporting the issues of the day with an intentional light shined on emergent resolutions, as well.
The Sun also moves into its future with enhanced online products that keep it competitive, and a mission to continue to serve as a town square of sorts — a community outlet not only for hard news but also shared ideas, opinions and initiatives. Every section of the paper, from its stories and photos, graphics, calendar items and letters to the editor, helps solidify that goal.
For the second year in a row, The Sun’s leadership is also investing in the Youth Voices project and improving mental health for the community’s young people.
“We’re adapting,” says publisher Adam Hirshan, who founded the Laconia paper with two partners, the late Edward Engler and Mark Guerringue. “People want a way back to trusted professional journalism and local Main Street retailers. We are the place to bring up the most important issues and to advocate for change through traditional, trusted channels.”
Hirshan Hart says, “A community paper is sometimes the only place people can go to find information about hyperlocal issues in a changing media landscape. Local community news focuses on not just issues but also celebrates the wonderful aspects of our community — its schools, nonprofits — and it keeps an eye on our municipal governments and offers the community a platform to share information.”
Hirshan Hart is proud that readers can see their worlds in The Sun’s pages — their neighbors, local volunteers, young people who make the honor roll. “It’s a true community paper, and we do our best to celebrate all of the positive aspects of the Lakes Region.”
Both father and daughter are excited that The Sun’s current news staff is comprised of a mix of youthful professionals and experienced journalists who bring a fresh perspective and excitement to the newsroom and the community that relies on it. Here is an introduction to the team.
Julie Hirshan Hart, editor
Several years ago, while considering the future of The Laconia Daily Sun, Hirshan reached out to his four daughters to assess whether one might be interested in carrying on the legacy. Hirshan Hart raised her hand.
While she’d worked on her college newspaper, after graduation, she served nonprofits, overseeing elements of fundraising for 10 years. Then, Hirshan Hart wanted a new challenge. COVID, and a need for all hands on deck, accelerated a five-year plan that began in 2018 with Hirshan Hart working for the paper remotely from Florida, reading press releases, preparing community calendar items and getting to know the region and its major players.
In 2021, she moved to the Lakes Region full time and shifted from community editor to co-editor with Adam Drapcho, as longtime editor Roger Carroll had resigned. Now the 35-year-old Gilford resident is the editor. “I’ve been focusing on reader engagement and new ways to enhance the experience for our readers,” she says.
Benjamin Welch, deputy editor since September 2022
A transplant from the Mountain West, Welch brings 12 years of experience in journalism, eight as production manager at The Aspen Times in Colorado. “I think it’s important to tell people’s stories and provide our readership with not only hard-hitting news but also interesting pieces that inspire them to further invest in their community,” says the 32-year-old Gilford resident. “I have a knack for copy editing and making sure each comma is in the correct place. I like page design and experimenting with ways to make each edition look more visually appealing. I strive to ensure our articles are fair and accurate while also being easy to read and entertaining.”
Adam Drapcho, a longtime reporter and a former news editor
Drapcho, 42, of North Sandwich, came to The Sun as a reporter in August 2007, and recently took a break to freelance, after helping acclimate Hirshan Hart to the newsroom and the role of editor. He came to The Sun after writing for the Exeter News-Letter and serving as a staff writer for a weekly newspaper and as assistant editor for a lifestyle magazine. He was poised to leave the industry but reached out to the late Ed Engler, as he held The Sun in high esteem. “It is and always has been a local-first newspaper and treats local reporting as the most important task of the day, every day,” Drapcho says. “The company has always had a culture that is open to the readers. People can walk in, even without an appointment, and have a reasonable expectation that someone from the news staff will sit down with them and listen to them, whether they have a news tip, a story to share, or a complaint about our coverage.” Drapcho never tires of talking to new people, understanding their stories and sharing those stories with a broader audience. He says, “I think it’s critically important for us, as members of a society, to understand what is happening within our society and to have an understanding of what’s going on in the lives of our neighbors.”
Jon Decker, photographer/reporter since November 2021
A Laconia resident, Decker, 28, is The Sun’s visual journalist and works as a reporter, photographer and illustrator, occasionally also providing video stories. He appreciates that The Sun is a family-owned, independent, community newspaper — “an increasingly rare breed in America.” He has worked at publications on the West Coast, spent time in the video world, shooting a solo documentary film in 2020, and has also been a television producer for an outdoors show in Oregon. “I bring some versatility and fun to The Sun team through my background in film, drones, photography and illustration,” he says. “I enjoy the flexibility, unpredictability and creativity of the field. Getting to interact with so many kinds of people while working as a storyteller is really rewarding to me. There’s also an authenticity in journalism that you just can’t find in the private or corporate sectors.”
Catherine McLaughlin, reporter since April 2022
As a Gilford native, McLaughlin, 24, brings a network of resources to her coverage of politics, government and schools, as well as a unique perspective as a young person. She worked for her college newspaper and interned at InDepthNH.org, an online news outlet, before she began freelancing for The Sun a year ago. She loves that The Sun has a loyal following and appreciates the supportive, flexible and friendly workplace and the structured yet creative work of writing. “I also love that the work is social. Getting to make new connections and bonds in the community, and getting to just sit and talk with people is a lot of fun,” she says. “Interviews can also be quite creative. I try to ask very unique questions and really make people think, and I always silently celebrate when I ask someone a chin-scratcher.”
Staff moving on
Two members of The Sun's team departed recently. Roberta Baker has accepted a position with another news outlet, and longtime journalist Mike Mortensen is retiring after decades covering the city, and earning a lifetime achievement award from the New Hampshire Press Association in 2021. These two journalists reflect on their time working with The Sun.
Roberta Baker, reporter Sept. 2019-Dec. 2022
Baker came to The Sun through a partnership with both the state’s Endowment for Health and its Charitable Foundation in a funded position that focused on what’s called solutions journalism — taking reporting on the issues a step further to explore possible solutions that other communities may have employed and evaluate their effectiveness. Baker's grant position also earned training for the entire Sun team. She lives in the Lakes Region and Concord and has worked as a writer or reporter for about 25 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader, Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram and the Republican-American, a Connecticut paper. Her stories have also run in The Boston Globe, Concord Monitor and The Keene Sentinel and on New Hampshire Public Radio. She has also written four children’s picture books published by Little, Brown. She majored in anthropology in college and worked as a patent law paralegal and a financial analyst before becoming a journalist. She says, “I love to write, learn new things constantly and figure out how to tell the story.”
Michael Mortensen, reporter 2012-2022
Mortensen worked for The Laconia Citizen for 32 years in various reporting and editing roles. After he was laid off in 2011, he came to The Sun as a freelance reporter. Over 10 years, he has covered courts, police, Belknap County government and the State School redevelopment. “I capitalized on my institutional knowledge of events, issues and personalities in the Lakes Region,” says the 75-year-old Gilford resident. “I enjoy being part of a collaborative team that together seeks to cover important events and delve into significant issues that affect people.” Mortensen approaches retirement with mixed feelings: “While I’m looking forward to having more free time, I’m wondering how I will adjust to not having a specific task to accomplish every day.” He plans to volunteer to stay connected to the community.
Good luck to Mike and Roberta as they begin new chapters - and welcome to the newcomers. I really enjoy reading the paper, and I thank you so much for introducing us to the staff.
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