This must be the place: What came first, the anger or the words?
In my 12 years as a professional journalist, I’ve seen and heard the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to find balance and strength in this industry that is newspapers, magazines and media in our country and around our world.
And within that decade or more of newsroom experience, I’ve interviewed, researched, reported and written about thousands of subjects and topics, all through the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations — each White House as different as the last.
Back in 2007-2008, when I got my first journalism gig, I found myself in the high desert prairie of Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming (Grand Teton Mountains).
Relocating from the Canadian Border of Upstate New York, I was thrown headfirst into the rural West — a barren and often-times harsh landscape — one inhabited by ranchers, Mormons, billionaires and ski bums.
To some, I was a fish out of water, this 22-year-old New York kid, fresh out of college in Connecticut, now putting down roots in the Wild West. But, as per usual, I reveled in the idea of being thrown into a situation where I knew nobody and had to prove myself, where my word and my work meant everything.
I found myself covering local politics, planning and zoning meetings and education, all alongside an array of profile features on elderly Mormon farmers, extreme professional skiers, national park rangers and weather-beaten cattle ranchers.
In that position, I learned a lot about not only myself and my profession, but also — and most importantly — about how to listen, and listen respectfully to others. I remember one interview in particular, a legendary filmmaker, who, in the midst of my questioning, turned to me and said, “Garret, the most important thing you’ll ever learn in interviewing people is to let the pause between question and answer hover in the moment and emotion of a properly cultivated response.”
He was right. Let the question sit there in the air a little bit. Let the subject immerse themselves in thought without interruption. Let the response simmer, even within an awkward silence. Side note: all of this applies to conversation in general, regardless if you agree with the person you’re talking to or not, to which, “I may not agree with you, but I respect you as a human being.”
Everything I learned and experienced in that first year in Idaho (and on the job), I’ve truly and genuinely used in my daily life, whether for journalistic endeavors or simply wandering and wondering amid the grand scheme of things.
And in my seven or so years with The Smoky Mountain News, I’ve seen the change in how the four winds blow as to how media and news is viewed by the general public. I’ve received hate mail (and continue to weekly). And I’ve gotten letters of thanks and gratitude (also, weekly). I see the comments on our social media accounts, for good or ill. I take it all in stride, and with a grain of salt.
But, all in all? I believe wholeheartedly that the average person (and the majority of society) is a good and just person. Most folks want to, and would, help each other in times of need, regardless of political or religious differences. Remember, we’re in this together, and for that, we must never lose sight of the power and beauty of a community rallying for a brighter tomorrow.
Thus, when our publication finds itself in the crosshairs of dark and disturbing rhetoric — especially through the channels of social media and unknown names hiding behind a profile and a keyboard — we take it seriously. Recent messages sent to The Smoky Mountain News have really put the point across that there needs to be a moment of clarity in these uncertain times.
Our newspaper consists of journalists, advertising sales folks, graphic designers and management of varying backgrounds — a unique and championed blend of ideologies, religions and political persuasions. We are proud of who we are, where we came from, and of where we’re going.
There have always been journalists and media outlets with differing political and religious backgrounds, ever since the printing press was invented centuries ago. But, the key is — and will always be — to leave your bias and personal feelings at the door of your research and reporting. And for all of us here at The Smoky Mountain News, we do so with the utmost respect and concern for our readers, subjects and topics.
So, for the 1,000th time, your local newspaper is not out to get you. We proudly live, work and thrive in your community. We are the first line of defense in terms of factual information and watchdog justice in your backyard.
The Smoky Mountain News is an independent, non-corporate news organization, one of authentic journalism presented by hardworking folks who are your friends and neighbors. We are not mainstream media, nor do we sit in rooms and discuss how best to destroy Main Street America. I digress.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Acclaimed hard rock act The Hooten Hallers will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville.
2 The 28th Annual Leaf Lookers Gemboree will be held from Oct. 25-27 at the Macon County Community Building just south of Franklin on U.S. Highway 441.
3 The comedy classic “Arsenic and Old Lace” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-26, Nov. 1-2 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
4 The Western Carolina University Bardo Arts Center will present its annual Halloween screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.
5 Nantahala Brewing (Sylva) will host Captain Midnight Band (rock/soul) at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26.