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The following is the eighth in a series of Odessa File columns by Jim Reed, managing partner of the Ziff Law Firm, regarding news of a legal nature that readers might find timely in this ever-changing world.
By Jim Reed
I met Charlie Haeffner years ago when my son was playing on the Watkins Glen High School soccer team. I was talking with friends at the game and Charlie was taking photos. Having recently moved to the Watkins area, these friends explained that if you wanted to know anything in Schuyler County, you had to read The Odessa File.
For readers of The Odessa File, Charlie needs no introduction: he IS The Odessa File, its reporter, photographer, editor and publisher. I don't know anyone in Schuyler County who does not read this site at least occasionally. I check it often for the latest news in the county and I suspect many others do, too.
Charlie, a former longtime newspaper reporter and editor, is a one-man band, covering anything from high school sports, his favorite, to community events and politicians holding town halls. Charlie and The Odessa File have become an indispensable part of everyday life in the county.
Charlie, who lives in Odessa, is about to take his annual summer vacation on an island in northern Michigan. He won't be popping up everywhere again until after school starts in September, but he'll still be communicating by phone and email and updating The Odessa File when necessary. He's never far from the news, even on vacation hundreds of miles away.
I decided I wanted to learn more about him and why he started the site, and how it became such a big part of life in our county. Here are some excerpts from our talk:
Jim: Why did you start The Odessa File in 2002?
Charlie: I was writing novels and taking a break from journalism, but I was interested in getting back into the news business. I wanted to be my own boss, though. My son Dave was home from college, and he knew I wanted to run my own newspaper but I had told him printing costs made it too complicated and expensive. Finally, he said, "Why don't you start an electronic newspaper?"
I said, "Oh my God, that's so simple!" I worked with a web designer I knew, I bought an inexpensive digital camera, and six weeks after that discussion, I was up and running for about a $900 investment.
The first night, I had three visitors and I was two of them. Nobody knew I was out there, so I put out a news release and one of my former newspapers, the Star-Gazette, ran a story about the site, and right away, we went from a few visitors a day to 300 to 400, and we were on our way.
Jim: What were your initial plans and was there a turning point?
Charlie: I started out covering Odessa and Montour Falls news and Odessa-Montour High School sports. I wasn't planning to do it full-time.
But it really took off after I talked with Craig Cheplick, who was a teacher and the athletic director at the time at Watkins Glen High School. He has since retired. He asked me to cover his school's sports, too. I was reluctant at first to take that on, but he was persistent and I finally covered one of their soccer games. They were very welcoming, especially the kids, and we just kept growing and I kept putting more time in. By the end of the fall sports season in 2003, I was pretty well entrenched.
I expanded the news coverage after I expanded the sports coverage to include Watkins Glen. In the fall of 2003, I started covering Watkins Glen village government and politics, and added the school board to the mix. Accordingly, advertising started picking up a little at that time.
My readership grew throughout 2004, and I was getting about 10,000 hits a week by the end of that year.
Jim: How long did it take businesses to find you for advertising?
Charlie: There wasn't much income in the beginning, a few advertisers and a few donations. Over time, the dominoes started to fall as more and more advertisers jumped on board. My advertising tripled in one year and doubled the next. I realized in early 2005 I could make a living with the site.
Jim: Your impact reaches outside the county.
Charlie: I have readers from just about every state because Schuyler County natives live all over the country. A few times, people have told me they got homesick reading about their hometown here. Some decided to move back here and they let me know that The Odessa File influenced their decisions.
Jim: What is your favorite part of doing The Odessa File?
Charlie: Covering the kids, getting to know them. I have kept in contact with some of them over the years. Just getting to know these kids is an honor. Getting to help them a little along the way is very gratifying.
Jim: Have you thought about retirement?
Charlie: No. I'll be 70 in October but I still love what I do. It keeps me engaged and keeps me feeling young. My hours vary tremendously from week to week. Sometimes it's nonstop during the high school sports season and I am up until 2 or 3 in the morning, but then I get slow days when I can recharge. I love what I do. Why would I want to stop?
Thanks for reading,
Photo in text: Attorney Jim Reed.
To see Jim Reed's first column, click here.
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869