Archived Opinion

No endings, only new beginnings

No endings, only new beginnings

I can’t tell you how many goodbye columns I’ve read over the years from reporters leaving their posts, lamenting over the ills of the industry and trying to piece together words that can accurately explain the bittersweet feeling of walking away from their career in journalism. 

Now that I’m sitting here trying to decide how to close this 15-year chapter of working for community newspapers, I realize how bad I suck at goodbyes. Goodbyes are hard. Change is hard. But, if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that life is too short and too precious to not do what your heart is calling you to do.

Right now, my heart is calling me to embark on a much different career path, one that for years I’ve been slowly preparing myself for. The same passions that led me to journalism are the same passions that have led me to work for a growing nonprofit working to improve people’s lives in Appalachia. 

I’ve always been a writer. In high school, I chose to go into journalism because I wanted to use my writing talent and my curious nature to help people. I was swept up in the power of the pen and convinced that if people knew better, they could do better. 

I truly saw it as a calling and found myself fortunate enough to find meaningful work alongside some incredibly talented and hardworking mentors who taught me valuable lessons along the way. 

The road was never easy — long hours, low pay, constant deadlines and an unimaginable amount of self-induced pressure to be credible, accurate and objective. 

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The last several years have been incredibly challenging for journalism and for journalists in the wake of social media, fake news, distrust of the media, and people who would rather get their news from TikTok videos than their trusted local newspaper, but I digress.

I have had incredible colleagues and an audience that appreciates the work we do, and I’m not saying community journalism isn’t still making a huge impact in the community. I know The Smoky Mountain News makes a difference every day, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the pinch, the burnout and disillusion from dealing with the constant fact-deniers at every turn. 

I kept trying to hang on, hoping my feelings would change and my motivation would return. It’s been hard to accept that my personal values have changed and my professional goals have shifted in a new direction. Being a journalist and being embedded in my community has been so much of my identity, I wasn’t sure what would be left if it went away. 

For the last two years, I’ve done my personal work around that thought and I’ve truly re-evaluated who I am, who I want to be and tried to align that with my values. I knew I wanted to be more of an advocate for the issues I care about — social justice, equality, affordable housing, accessible and high-quality public education, and affordable quality health care. 

When that opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t let it pass me by. Beginning this week, I will be working for Pisgah Legal Services, a nonprofit organization that offers free civil legal representation for people who can’t afford it. In addition to that mission, PLS received a multi-year grant from Dogwood Health Trust to expand their services and programs into the far western counties. 

The goal is to decrease child poverty and increase the number of people who have affordable health insurance in Western North Carolina by helping people sign up for health insurance on the marketplace and help them file taxes so they can take advantage of the earned income and child tax credits available through the federal Economic Recovery Act. 

I will be the WNC Economic Recovery Program Director for the seven most western counties. It’s a brand-new position and it will be a challenge, but I trust that I have everything I need to be successful.

The great thing is I get to stay in Waynesville and maintain the relationships I’ve built with people in the western counties over the last decade. I get to work closely with other nonprofits who’ve already been doing this work in their communities. 

The Smoky Mountain News has been my home for more than seven years. I know they will carry on the mission without me, but it will be hard not to be in the newsroom everyday with my work family. I have so much gratitude in my heart for my colleagues and their ability to be happy for me, while also letting me know how much they’ll miss me. That’s all I could hope for during this transition. 

While I may no longer be a reporter, rest assured I will always be a writer and I remain committed to serving my community in new ways. 

Thank you to my amazing support system of family, friends, mentors, and cheerleaders for getting me through the last couple of months of doubt, anxiety, and now celebration. The support and encouragement everyone has shown me has been overwhelming. 

My heart is full. 

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

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6 comments

  • Best wishes in your new adventure. ..You have a good ❤️!!!!

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Sunday, 02/20/2022

  • It sounds like you will be doing social work. We always need more social workers to help level the playing field. It's rough out there.

    posted by Beth

    Saturday, 02/19/2022

  • We missed you at the school board meeting Tuesday evening, Lucille Josephs! Will we see you tonight at the Lake Junaluska event sponsored by the Haywood County Republicans to hear the Republican candidates speak?

    posted by Teri D

    Thursday, 02/17/2022

  • Good riddance! Spare me your lamenting. You are not a true journalist but a Social Justice Warrior masquerading as a journalist. Too much trouble to do the necessary work and research to be honest and not propagandize and distort facts and news to fit your narrative. Its a shame. Maybe this experience will be a lesson to you and you will do better in your next career. Only time will tell.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Thursday, 02/17/2022

  • Thank you and best wishes for the next chapter!

    posted by Rebecca Walker

    Thursday, 02/17/2022

  • You forgot to tell them what an important beacon of wisdom I have been to you...ha ha good luck... you'll do so well for them and your new mission...

    posted by Cameron Jane Deering

    Wednesday, 02/16/2022

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