The Opelika Observer: 10 years in the making


By Michelle Key

In 2008, a group of Opelika business men and women realized that there was a need for a newspaper that would focus on the events and people of Opelika.
The original owners were:
Stephen Benson
Homer “Buddy” Bruce
James Collins IV
John Robert Dudley
Dennis Hamlet
Doug Horn
Ronnie Justice
Roger Justice
Charles Lawler
Roy McClure
Flora Jane Rhodes
John Rice
Henry Stern
Leroy Stewart
William Trant
Charles Whatley
Kay Wiley
Fred Wood and
William Young.
They formed a partnership and quickly started putting together the necessary components.
Jayson Hill was hired to be the first editor and was tasked with launching the first edition.
With an associate editor and some students from Auburn University, Hill published the first edition on Oct. 30, 2008.
D. Mark Mitchell was hired to write a sports column named “On the Mark” and Ann Cipperly was asked to write a weekly food column which she named “Southern Hospitality.”
Cliff McCollum was hired as a stringer in Nov.
Lisa Salsman served as editor from November 2009 until early 2011. McCollum continued as a columnist until January 2010 and then he took on the role of city reporter.
In early Fred Woods took on the responsibilities as editor and McColloum was named News Editor. Woods served diligently in this endeavor until his retirement in 2017. “The Observer filled a real need for local news for Opelikans and the surrounding communities,” Woods said. “It was satisfying to be a part of this and to inform newcomers to the area about our town’s history.”
Alison James was hired as an assistant to McCollum and Woods in 2013, and took on the role of associate editor upon McCollum’s departure to work in Baldwin County in 2014.
J and Virgina Stern, took their father’s place as co-owners of the Observer when their father passed away in July 2014.
Rebekah Martin was hired in 2014 as a reporter and became the associate editor after James took a position in North Alabama in May 2016.
I was hired as the office administrator in October 2014.
Martin served as associate editor to Woods until November 2017 when she moved to Hartselle, Alabama.
It was under Woods editorship that some of the successful changes that are still in place today occurred. With the assistance of the owner’s management team, of which Woods was a member, and an industry consultant, a decision was made in 2016 to lower the cost of the subscription price and to distribute the paper at no cost in the newspaper boxes in the community.
In March 2016, the paper also changed the distribution date from Fridays to Wednesdays which has been a popular change with readers.
Charlie Ray, an Opelika native and businessman, joined the Observer as a co-owner in 2016.
In 2017, the remaining owners made the decision that it was time for them to step away from the Observer as owners. They offered the employees the opportunity to purchase the business and I said yes.
I became editor Aug. 1, 2017, working under the guidence of Woods and the rest of the managment team. I finalized the purchase of the Observer at the end of December 2017. Woods said that he felt like they had turned the paper over to good hands. “The Observer continues to build upon what we set out to do,” Woods said.
Morgan Bryce was named the associate editor in January 2018 and has been instrumental in the growth of the paper since that time. He has managed the internship program and editorial content.
Bryce was named editor and will serve in that capacity starting next week.


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