So, what am I thankful for? To have found a career that has proven as meaningful as I’d hoped. I mean, when I talk to young people these days who are trying to choose career paths or fields of study, I feel a little guilty. I got into journalism in middle school, had a fantastic high school newspaper and journalism teacher, worked at the local daily before graduating, and even though I ventured into other majors while in college — engineering and economics, among them — and worked in different fields afterward, I kind of always knew I would get back into journalism and writing.
Today, some would question the mental capacity of someone choosing this field. There’s this thing called the internet that’s changing everything about the way information is delivered and consumed. And then there’s the continued potshots raining down on the industry from those who prefer echo chambers to informed journalism.
And all of that is relevant, but it doesn’t change the fact that news matters. I look at stories like the one last week by Smoky Mountain News Staff Writer Cory Vaillancourt and it reaffirms my belief in the relevance of local journalism. Cory, after much planning, went homeless for three nights in Haywood County, sleeping outside, eating in soup kitchens, and doing a lot of walking.
What did he find? Nothing earth-shattering, no expose-like material. What he discovered was people at various locations who treated him with respect and dignity despite his homelessness, one of those times when what we reported was “good news.” Many news organizations shy away from investing their resources in what may turn out to be a good news story, but Cory reported truthfully about what he encountered.
From a business perspective, many in our industry are hurting. It pains me when I read about layoffs and struggles. Newspapers and the information they provide are vital to the informed society envisioned by our founders.
Staying alive as a small business is tough. We’ve had to constantly adapt in the 18-plus years we’ve been in business. Just prior to the recession in 2007, we acquired Smoky Mountain Living magazine. It’s nationally distributed, covers the culture, history, and arts of the region from North Georgia to southwest Virginia and is produced six times a year from our offices in Waynesville and Sylva. That portion of our media business is growing, gaining subscribers and advertising revenue. If you haven’t read SML, check it out here at www.smliv.com, or better yet get someone a gift subscriptions for Christmas by calling 866.452.2251 (shameless self-promotion accusations can be hurled at this spot in the column).
When that recession pushed us and many other small businesses into survival mode, we scrambled to find solid ground, much like a polar bear swimming around in the melting sea ice. We started producing niche magazines about subjects that interested us. Most of those are travel and tourism related — i.e., they are filled with stories about hiking, biking, camping, the arts, restaurants and breweries.
We’ve gotten pretty darn good at producing those publications, and that side of our business is also growing. Among the new ventures in the works for 2018 is a partnership with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Association to produce a magazine about the Blue Ridge Music Trails. In addition to the print version, all the stories will also be used across the BRNHA’s website and social media platforms. Look for the “Down the Road” magazine sometime in Spring 2018.
Another new venture we launched in 2017 is Mountain South Media (check it out at www.mtnsouthmedia.com), a digital marketing company that we hope will help many businesses in the region take advantage of all the online marketing opportunities that are out there. Entrepreneurs have been telling us for years that they were not getting the results they needed from digital marketing firms, so we’ve stepped in to fill that void. We’ve got a great team that is off and running.
All of this diversification helps us invest in our core mission, which is to provide quality local journalism for the residents of this region. That’s the bottom line. Our kick-ass team of designers, sales professionals, writers, editors and managers works hard to help small businesses get their message out and to help readers stay informed. And most of the time we’re having fun doing it.
So yes, I’m thankful that this exciting journey is ongoing, thankful for those I work with each day and for each of you reading this. Happy Holidays.