A&E Columns

This must be the place: Ode to the written word, ode to putting the paper to bed

Louisville, Kentucky, sits on the Ohio River. Garret K. Woodward photo Louisville, Kentucky, sits on the Ohio River. Garret K. Woodward photo

It’s a lot quieter this week at The Smoky Mountain News. Not just because of the unusually warm weather this past weekend sparking folks to frolic and head for the hills.

But, more so, it’s the recent transition of fellow colleagues into their new endeavors. 

To note, our Outdoors Editor Holly Kays just accepted what is arguably a dream job for her, running around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and writing about it for Smokies Life (formerly the Great Smoky Mountains Association). As well, one of our longtime advertising representatives, Sophia Burleigh, is also starting a new gig.

As always, we here at the newspaper champion growth of the individual — either personally or professionally, either with us or with another avenue of one’s journey through life. And yet, it never gets easier to see familiar faces you once knew on a day-in-day-out basis, only to now maybe cross paths with by happenstance. If anything, we’re damn happy for both of’em and wish’em the best.

Walking into the office Saturday morning to grab some files for a story I’m working on, it was surreal to pass by the desks of my former co-workers. Once covered with papers, pencils, pens and notebooks, usually a buzz of energy  come Tuesdays when we “put the paper to bed” (to press), now cleaned off for the next person to occupy the literal and figurative space. 

Leaving the office and moseying to the coffee shop for some caffeine refreshment before diving headlong into the realm of the written word, I couldn’t help but think about all the people, places and things all of us here at the paper have experienced since the inception of the publication 25 years ago.

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To start at the beginning, when I applied for the position of arts and entertainment editor here in June 2012, Holly also applied for the job, unbeknownst to me. I got the gig and relocated to Waynesville sight-unseen. Holly would eventually roll into town a year or so later when our publisher, Scott McLeod, kept her resume and called her up to see if she was interested in the newly-opened outdoors editor position. That was over a decade ago.

What’s crazy is when Holly and I started working together, we realized we had a lot more in common than we thought. To preface, when I graduated college in Connecticut in 2007, I took off for the west and landed at the Teton Valley News, a tiny community paper in Driggs, Idaho. About a year later, I started doing some work for a rival town paper across the street called the Valley Citizen. Turns out, Holly had also lived in Driggs and worked for the Valley Citizen before venturing to Haywood County. How wild, eh?

With Sophia, we hit it off immediately when she got hired to be in ad sales. During one Friday afternoon happy hour social in our office parking lot, I finally got to meet her fiancé, Grahm. Like two long lost brothers, we ended up becoming fast friends over some bourbon shared and enjoyed in gusto. A year later, I was asked by them to officiate their wedding. It was a true honor to do so.

And then, I think about just what it is we at the newspaper go through on a daily basis. Organized chaos, to say the least. Never-ending emails and phone calls to nail down assignments or potential advertisers. Late night writing on deadline. Early morning editorial meetings. Election night coverage. Breaking news stories. Cover features of great effort and care. It’s overwhelming, but at least you know you’re not alone in the trenches.

I’ve worked at The Smoky Mountain News going on 12 years now. Some 17 years total as a professional journalist, 18 if you count that senior year in college when I really decided this is what I wanted to ultimately do with my life, my time on this floating rock through space. Hundreds of articles and thousands of interviews in that time. All those faces and sentiments, those words and bylines.

Off the top of my head, there have been so many publications I’ve written for: Quinnipiac University Chronicle (Connecticut), State of Mind Music Magazine (Vermont), Williston Observer (Vermont), Teton Valley New (Idaho), Planet Jackson Hole (Wyoming), Valley Citizen (Idaho), Press-Republican (New York), Adirondack Daily Entertainment (New York), Roving Festival Writer (Michigan), Fourth Coast Entertainment Magazine (New York), Cider Magazine (Vermont), UpstateLIVE (New York). And so on. The list is endless, with many of those media outlets mentioned now-defunct.

These days, beyond my full-time work as the arts and entertainment editor at The Smoky Mountain News, I’m also the music editor for our sister publication Smoky Mountain Living magazine. And this is all atop overseeing the content for a bevy of in-house travel maga zine that, as of last count, was somewhere around 15 or so annual publications. 

Aside from that, I’m a regular contributor for Rolling Stone, a dream I’ve had since I first opened the legendary magazine in middle school. I also write for The Bluegrass Situation based in Los Angeles, California. And, from time-to-time, for the Lake Champlain Weekly, a news magazine in my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, which is a way to stay in the know of what’s going in my native North Country and help facilitate the local music scene. 

Throughout it all, countless memories float across my field-of-vision — where it began and where it stands. State of Mind Editor Mike McKinley who pretty much taught me everything I know about journalism. My former photographer Andrew Wyatt who used to travel the country with me documenting music festivals. Long gone reporter colleagues and a slew of former editors. Twelve years here at SMN and I still think I’ll never be able to top Scott McLeod as a boss when it comes to creative freedom and trust.

But, as important as the work itself it in this whirlwind, rollercoaster industry that is newspapers and magazines, what remains to be the essence — the glue and fuel to keep going — are those people you work with in the trenches and out in the field. We’re all in this together. The gratitude is real and tangible. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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