Though one of the newer staff members, assistant editor Jessica Melfi has the longest history with Bird Watcher’s Digest of all of us. How so?
Back in 1996, she was a student at nearby Marietta College when she was introduced to then-editor Bill Thompson, III, and offered an opportunity to intern at the magazine as part of her English degree coursework. Little did she know how that next year would ultimately change the course of her career.
No, she didn’t become a hard-core birder at that time—that came a good bit later—but she did experience her spark bird, a pileated woodpecker that sent her running for a field guide for the first time to figure out what the heck she was looking at. After her year-long internship at BWD (which included indexing the first 18 years’ worth of issues, i.e., reading 100+ issues!), she continued to appreciate birds on a deeper level than she had previously, but still did not consider herself a birder.
She stayed in touch with Bill and the magazine over the years as life took her to South Carolina for grad school and then to Columbus, Ohio, where she landed once again in publishing, first at a national high school sports magazine and then in educational publishing before striking out as a freelance editor and co-founding Longbourn Editorial Services with business partner and dear friend Susie Karya.
Somewhere along the way, Jessica’s good friend Kelly Ball (yes, BWD Sales Director Kelly Ball!) fell hard and fast for bird watching, and Kelly’s excitement for her new hobby prompted Jessica to reconnect with Bill in person at the 2011 Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio, and also to go birding for the first time since she worked at BWD. Jessica was a fairly new mom at this point, and as her family and her career grew over the next few years, so did her interest in birds.
In 2014, she and Kelly went on their first of many BWD Reader Rendezvous, and well, the rest was history. Her friendship with Bill and the entire BWD staff bloomed as they all traveled and birded together. She served as lead volunteer for all four American Birding Expos (often with little ones in tow!). She was contracted to proofread the magazine right before each issue went to press. She bought her first pair of “real” binoculars and started racking up the life birds—and she never looked back!
In 2019, with the passing of our beloved BT3, the need for an assistant editor arose to help editor Dawn Hewitt fulfill her duties of producing Bird Watcher’s Digest, our sister publication Watching Backyard Birds, our e-newsletter BirdWire, and our blog Out There with the Birds, among other special publications, marketing materials, and basically any written communication that leaves our office. Jessica leaped at the chance to become an official staff member alongside the BWD family she already knew and loved. More importantly, she saw it as a chance to help continue Bill’s important legacy and to honor the memory of her first publishing and birding mentor.
It’s now a year later, and she’s still pinching herself that this is really her job. “Every day I get to think, talk, read, and write about birds—hello, dream job! My publishing career began here 20 years ago, and I hope that many, many years from now, this is where it ends.”