Archived Opinion

There’s still a market for good journalism

There’s still a market for good journalism

The mantra since starting this newspaper has been straightforward: put out a high-quality newspaper and work like hell to make sure the business survives. If we can do both, I’ll be one of the lucky ones: doing what I love, making a living doing it and living in a place I’m fortunate to call home.

As the first week of June rolls around and we mark anniversary 23 for The Smoky Mountain News, the mantra remains unchanged. Everything else about this business, though, has certainly changed. And I mean everything. 

Way back in 1999, our office was an upstairs apartment above Waynesville’s Kitchen Shop rented from our old friend Richard Miller (he of the Classic Wineseller fame, the serial entrepreneur who has been a friend and business confidante over the years). It was sparsely furnished, our one extravagance a couch I had snagged from the end of someone’s driveway before it made it to the landfill. This was before laptops were commonplace, so the work was done at the office. We spent early mornings and late nights in that small apartment, the couch a place to catch a nap or just shut one’s eyes for a few minutes. 

Back then my wife traveled to Leon, Nicaragua, every year with her father, a doctor who did volunteer surgeries and taught medical students via Project Health for Leon (make a donation or learn more at projecthealthforleon.org).  The trip was in early November, so most election nights Lori was gone and I had the kids. They would fall asleep on that couch or on the floor, waiting for us to get the late results in. That office became known as “dad’s house” to my young children because I spent so much time there. For them, a visit to daddy’s house almost always included a trip across the street to the old Whitman’s Bakery, hence the excitement. 

Our business grew relatively fast in those early years, and we went from printing 12,000 papers that first week to up to 16,000 weekly in a few short years. We added staff and needed a bigger office, so we moved into what is now The Church Street Depot, the burger shop on Church Street that’s also owned by Miller. My desk sat exactly where the grill is now. 

And our whole business model was changing quickly. The growth of online news meant we had to adapt. Now, in addition to the 16,000 hard copies we put out each week, our website gets between 40-50,000 unique visitors weekly. Our e-newsletters reach about 15,000 subscribers. Our social media posts reach tens of thousands of people weekly. As most know, stories now break online and then we’ll fill in more material as the week goes on and include that version in our print edition. 

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We’ve also become the leading producer of niche magazines in Western North Carolina. We produce and publish Smoky Mountain Living, Blue Ridge Motorcycling Magazine, and many more titles for tourism entities, private businesses and nonprofits. In 2022 we’ll publish right at 36 titles in addition to the weekly newspaper. These have helped diversify our revenue stream, and those dollars go right back into our flagship newspaper, helping us remain profitable. 

And still in business. The actual journalism we do has changed little, but the revenue side has evolved in all the ways I’ve described and tomorrow it will change again. We have a strong commitment to being a free news source for the region, but you’ll also notice that online we ask readers who can afford it to pay a small fee for the stories we provide. We hope those who appreciate having a free, independent, local news source will help if they are able. 

So our commitment is to keep the local stories coming. As long as our readers remain with us, we’ll be OK. Our business model will continue to adapt to the changing realities of the marketplace. For me, that means every now and then I can take a few moments to revel in the past. It’s been a great 23-year ride, and here’s to whatever the future brings. 

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

 

SMN Open House

  • 144 Montgomery Street

  • Join us from 5-7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 3, for complimentary food and drinks as we mark our 23rd anniversary.

Leave a comment

4 comments

  • Great journalism, I don’t live in Haywood anymore but still read all of your posts.

    posted by Donna Kellow

    Tuesday, 06/07/2022

  • You publish a terrific newspaper that is a real benefit to the community. Excellent journalism and editing, something missing from many newspapers. I will continue to be a contributor to an organization that does a great job.

    posted by Bob Vogt

    Friday, 06/03/2022

  • You publish a terrific newspaper that is a real benefit to the community. Excellent journalism and editing, something missing from many newspapers. I will continue to be a contributor to an organization that does a great job.

    posted by Bob Vogt

    Friday, 06/03/2022

  • Sorry to burst your bubble but this is not a high quality newspaper. Your version of journalism is laughable at best. Predominantly promoting leftist views and pushing a leftist agenda is not what I would call journalism but propaganda. But I will compliment you on allowing opposing voices a chance to comment and reply to your leftist leaning tripe.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Thursday, 06/02/2022

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