Debra Ferrell

I had the most humbling and intriguing interview with Debra Ferrell for Women’s History Month. Caswell Messenger editor, Debra Ferrell is editor of three newspapers. She also operates The Union Star in Brookneal, VA and Altavista Journal in Altavista, VA. She has worked for Womack Publishing Company since the mid 1990s. Her journey is a step out on faith with boldness, bravery, and determination.

Can you give me a brief synopsis on how you oversee the publication production for the Caswell Messenger?

“I perform the computer layout of pages for each of the three papers on Monday and Tuesday each week. Then, I email the pages to press in South Hill Virginia where they are printed Tuesday night and delivered on Wednesday. I also do the majority of the administrative tasks for the papers, take photographs, write news stories, update websites, Facebook and Twitter, sell advertising, put together multiple magazines, and successfully tackle all challenges on a weekly basis.”

What is the most challenging part of writing text, such as stories, articles, and editorials?

“Juggling three papers, the biggest challenge is finding the time to do any writing. Much of the work is done by my talented group of freelancers at each paper. In all my writing, I try to be as accurate as possible as well as treating each subject fairly. A lot of the subject matter is suggested to me, some of it I seek out on my own.”

Would you consider yourself to be more analytical or creative by nature?

“When I started writing I was definitely creative by nature and mostly focused on writing features. When I moved up in the company to editor, I had to change mostly to hard news so that involved forcing my brain to be more analytical. So I guess I’m a mixture of both.”

If you could write a book on any topic, what would it be?

“I’m a huge fan of horror novels by writers such as Preston & Child and Stephen King. I would love to be a novelist, but I just don’t have the patience, time, or creativity!”

What are your favorite pastimes?

“In my limited free time, I enjoy reading, watching television, listening to music, and going to flea markets and thrift stores looking for items for my numerous “collections.” I mostly collect vintage toys and figurines from the sixties and seventies.”

Do you have a particular writer or author that you truly admire?

“By far, it’s Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child who have written many books with themes of horror combined often with archeology. They are sensational writers whether on their own or together. I also love Stephen King’s horror novels. One of my favorite authors is Agatha Christie and I’ve read all her books about 20 times each. I have a mental block that prevents me from remembering the ending so it’s always new to me!”

What books/magazines /newspapers do you enjoy reading?

“I like reading any of the Womack Publishing newspapers, plus local ones from Danville and Lynchburg, Virginia as well as the local Roxboro paper. I don’t read many magazines except for People, Star, and some about archeology.”

What do you like most about being an editor or three newspapers?

“I like the freedom of working on what I feel is most critical to the process. I always prioritize what I have to do so I can get these papers and magazines out on time. It’s very difficult process, yet, I love what I do.”

What are some of your achievements, accomplishments, and awards that you have received thus far?

“Just making it to the level I am now is an achievement for me. I went to college for Business Management and didn’t have any journalism education. I just learned on my own and made it here. Coming to work every day and doing what I need to do is a major accomplishment for me. I’m not a competitive person by nature and don’t worry much about awards. I’ve had a few, but they’re not my primary focus in life.”

How do you stay motivated as an editor?

“Trying to keep up with all the work I have and what’s happening in the communities keeps me motivated because if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”

What positive advice would you like to give, in regard to becoming an editor?

“It takes a tremendous amount of focus and dedication to make it this far. In this business, you always have to make sacrifices of personal time off by working days, nights, weekends, holidays, etc. It takes time away from your home life and family, so if that won’t work for you, it may not be a good fit to be an editor or reporter.”

What five words or less would describe her?

Ferrell is the true definition of grace under pressure. Having the courage to show grace under pressure means that no matter the circumstances you can remain focused on the task at hand, it means you are humble and not swayed into knee jerk reactions or emotional outbursts or even anger. She fosters teamwork, attentively finishes each task at hand, communicates with good interpersonal skills and tricks of the trade reaching an influx of melting pots and dipping out unique story angles.

Ferrell tells me that all papers are treated equally with a burst of resources to capture aspirations, inspirations, and all “beats” of communities. Her creativity and leadership ability with community outreach services takes exploration to new heights that are filled with the mastery of building upon extensions of knowledge found in all places.

When asking Ferrell about her success story for others, she simply explained the sentiments found in the poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, entitled, “Success.”


by Ralph Emerson

What is Success?

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;

To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by

a healthy child, a garden patch

or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed

easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Got a story you would like to see published? Please call Debra Ferrell at the Caswell Messenger today, 336-694-4145 or email