Archived Opinion

Twenty-two years later, some things haven’t changed

Twenty-two years later, some things haven’t changed

Early morning, June 2, 1999. I remember exactly where I was at and what I was doing. More on that later.

This morning, though — June 1, 2021 — I woke and got straight to work, jumpstarting my day early to make up for the Monday holiday. First thing I did was listen to a story on National Public Radio by Smoky Mountain News Politics Editor Cory Vaillancourt about the small motel in Maggie Valley with the controversial sign that was the catalyst for a community rally in support of law enforcement. 

If you haven’t read the story or don’t know what I’m talking about, go to our website and you can find the print version, or go to Blue Ridge Public Radio’s site and find the radio version. This is not just an important local issue but one that’s been debated everywhere from the Oval Office on down to the county courthouse lawn. 

After listening to the story and re-reading the print version, I started thinking about an opinion piece I could write for this week’s edition. Then I re-read Smoky Mountain News Staff Writer Holly Kays’ story — also in last week’s edition — about the plans for the Confederate statue on the steps of Jackson County’s iconic courthouse. County commissioners plan to alter the statue’s inscription by covering “Our heroes of the Confederacy” and replacing it with wording which says the statue was erected “… in memory of those who died during the American Civil War.”

The decision is stirring feelings on all sides of this emotional issue, and commissioner themselves were not unanimous in their vote to make the changes. How to handle Confederate monuments is a sensitive, delicate topic that is evolving even as I write this today, an issue I’m sure we’ll be writing about well into the future.

While reading the stories from The Smoky Mountain News and several other media outlets — national and regional — regarding police reform and Confederate monuments, I was reminded of how good reporting can enlighten one’s thinking. Too often the stereotypes regarding what “real mountaineers” believe or what “outsiders” believe turns out to be just plain wrong. Young versus old, Boomer versus Gen X’er, conservative versus progressive, local versus transplant, immigrant versus seventh generation American — however you want to slice it, more times than not if you really listen you’ll find that most people have more in common than some want us to believe.

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As we mark the 22nd anniversary of this newspaper’s founding, there is much that has changed very little in that time span. While the larger media world has undergone a metamorphosis none could have predicted during this time, the foundations of good journalism remain the same. And please, don’t confuse the media bias on cable TV and their lunatic talking heads with what those of us in the trenches of local journalism are doing. We are fighting for our lives doing what I think is important work while they get million-dollar salaries for spewing hate and division.

Back 22 years ago in our first issue, I described what we at The Smoky Mountain News wanted to do: “If this newspaper has a mission, it’s to help the people in this region make informed decisions. As the pace of change cascades like a waterfall upon us, we’ll need to be armed with good information if we are to make the best choices.” That simple truth still guides us as we move into an unknown future.

And back then on June 2, 1999? Well, we had spent a year planning this newspaper’s start, what it would look like, what stories would be in the first issue, who we could get to advertise, all of that. That Wednesday morning, though, we — me, Greg Boothroyd and Neal Torda — found ourselves staring at a mountain of 12,000 newspapers and wondering how in the hell we would ever get them distributed in a four-county region and then find time to do it all again in one week. 

It was game on, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Some things never change.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


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