Newspaper hires hometown talent

Zoe Greszler • Aug 28, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Exciting things are happening at the Norwalk Reflector, as the newspaper welcomes an editor and two writers — all of them homegrown talent. 

Taking the helm of the Reflector’s sports coverage is Mark Hazelwood, a 37-year Norwalk native and a familiar face to many. An award-winning journalist, he has served as the Sandusky Register sports editor for the past six years.

Karlee Steffanni, a 2009 St. Paul High School graduate, is a new full-time reporter. She will cover breaking news, crime and court stories, as well as some council and school board meetings in surrounding communities.

And Madeline Roche, a 2017 Norwalk High School graduate, is now a regular correspondent. The daughter of News Editor Matt Roche and his wife Jodie, she wrote a few articles for the Reflector in the past. Now, however, readers will see her byline more frequently in the newspaper as well as Discover Norwalk magazine.

“We’re just thrilled to death to have them,” Managing Editor Joe Centers said.

When Jake Furr announced he was resigning as sports editor to pursue new opportunities, Centers knew Furr’s successor would have big shoes to fill. That’s why the paper went with Hazelwood, who for the time being also will continue to serve as the Register sports editor.

Hazelwood said there will be a transition time while the Register searches for his replacement. After that, he’ll be able to devote his full attention to the Reflector.

“Mark has forgotten more about Norwalk sports then most people will will ever know,” said Centers, who joined the Reflector as the sports editor in 1979 and held that position until 2000, when he was promoted to managing editor. “(Hazelwood) covered the Truckers for years and he actually wrote a book about the state championship basketball team.”

A 1999 Norwalk High School graduate, Hazelwood comes to the Norwalk newspaper with 51 writing awards in 10 years from the Associated Press, Ohio Society of Professional Journalists and the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association, including four-time Writer of the Year and 14 first-place awards.

On top of writing and staffing numerous state championships, Hazelwood went to Des Moines, Iowa and St. Louis to cover Monroeville grad Logan Stieber win NCAA wrestling championships. He traveled to St. Louis and Canton to cover Orlando Pace's Pro Football Hall of Fame journey. And he attended all but two of the Cleveland Indians postseason games last fall — including all four World Series games in Cleveland.

Centers said Hazelwood has a rich sports knowledge and writing history, working hard to climb the ranks. In addition to the Register, Hazelwood previously wrote for the Lorain Morning Journal and Ashland Times-Gazette, but has never lost his love for his hometown. 

“He’s covered Sandusky for some time, but always had a big heart for the area sports teams,” Centers said.

Over the years, some of his stories written for the Register also appeared in the Reflector, since the two sports departments have collaborated with coverage of area schools. The two newspapers are owned by the same company.

Hazelwood said the aspect he’s looking forward to the most in his new position is “being home.”

“You hear that and it sounds so corny and like the cliché thing to say, but I’m just speaking honestly here,” he said, adding saving an hour or more in drive time each day is a huge plus.

“It takes a lot out of you. Plus, we’re in a profession where you do miss a lot of family things, but I understand that,” he said. “I’ve always known that and my wife (Megan) and daughter (Chloe) have always known that. But, this is also an opportunity to maybe miss less.”

His love of family time only narrowly overshadows the love of his hometown.

“I love this city,” Hazelwood said. “I’ve always loved it. That’s never going to change. Every town has good and bad, but I absolutely love this place as you can tell. I’ve never left it. I love raising my daughter here. I love everything about this community.”

Steffanni, who graduated from Kent State University with a degree in English in 2013, began working for Reflector a few weeks ago. She said returning to her hometown has been exciting.

“It's important to me to contribute something of value to the community I grew up in,” she said. “Writing is what I've always wanted to do.”

She said she became interested in reporting because it mixed a few of her interests and passions, including interacting with people, learning new things outside her life experiences and, of course, writing.

“It's a great experience for me as a writer. I feel like I'm learning a lot and hopefully making a difference in some way,” she said.

Outside of work, Steffanni is “super into Netflix and anything that can make me laugh,” she said.

Steffanni, Cary Ashby and Zoe Greszler are the newspaper’s three full-time staff writers.

Roche, born and raised in Norwalk, said the Reflector office is like a home to her.

“I was basically born into being at the Reflector,” she said. “It's where my parents met and I went there all the time while growing up. I always joke and say that writing is in my blood, but it really does feel like home to join the Reflector staff.

Roche described herself as “goofy” and said she loves making people laugh, eating food, taking spontaneous adventures and trying things outside of her comfort zone — a few of which she thinks will help her in her new job.

“I really like talking to people, so that's a major reason but I also enjoy challenging myself,” she said. “The tasks reporters have are way out of the comfort zone of most people and it keeps the job interesting and exciting.”

At Norwalk High School, Roche took three years of journalism classes taught by Debbie Leffler, a current Reflector columnist and former staff writer and community editor. The class produces the school newspaper, Trucker Imprint.

As a senior, Roche served as editor-in-chief, leading a staff that won a state award. She also won several individual awards for her writing during her three years with Trucker Imprint.

“Mrs. Leffler does a great job teaching her students how to be newspaper journalists,” said her dad, who joined the Reflector in 1994.

“I feel like it's the responsibility of a journalist to make a newspaper that the public can be proud of, so I hope I can contribute to making that happen,” she said.

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