That feeling in the pit of my stomach is familiar. I imagine it’s something like what people with ulcers feel — nervous, tightening, churning, almost painful. It’s telling me that there is very likely going to be fallout from a story we are about to publish. I won’t sleep well that night after we send the paper to press. After all these years and so many editions, it still comes with certain stories.

Is what we are about to publish going to hurt a friend? Are we being fair?  Have we told both sides if that’s what the issue demands? Did a community leader I admire do something bad that we are about to report? Are we obligated to publish a story that is going to cost us advertising dollars, taking money away that we could use to invest and make the company stronger? Are we sure this is a public figure we are writing about, because if it’s not we could face libel charges?

In last week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News we published articles about positive political and economic signs in two towns in our coverage area. Sylva and Canton both have a lot of momentum right now and were the towns we wrote about.

But for the most part, the entire coverage area of The Smoky Mountain News — Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, along with Cherokee — is actually doing pretty well and beating the odds versus a lot of places in North Carolina. Unemployment is low, population is growing modestly, and the small businesses we deal with on a weekly basis remain optimistic about the future.

As the new year dawns and I take account of everything that’s happened in the past 12 months, it’s Donald Trump that grabs the top spot in my “what the hell happened here” category.

I’m a proud American, and for some reason that seems something unpopular to say these days. I’m no patriot and have never been tested in that manner or served in the Armed Forces, but I still cherish what this country stands for: freedom, equality, a place where one can rise to the level of their own ability, a place that lends a hand to those struggling to gain freedom or achieve success. Above all, a place that strives to achieve a moral high ground in both domestic and international relations.

In this holiday season, I have much to be thankful for. At least that’s the way I see it, though others may call me crazy for what I consider my blessings.

Skip past this column right now unless you’re OK with a little self-indulgence while I talk about what we do here at The Smoky Mountain News. I mean, it’s an odd business: we gather information from throughout the region — news from various sources and paid advertisements from businesses — package it in print and online, and give it away each week in hopes you’ll read and find what we do relevant, useful and interesting so we can do it again next week.

“It’s exciting to think about what Haywood County could be. The desire is there.”

— Buddy Melton, fiddler/singer, Balsam Range

It’s inspiring when you come across people who have both a vision and the wherewithal to turn it into reality. It makes me want to climb on board with them and be a part of that success. That’s what I see happening with local bluegrass supergroup Balsam Range and its “Art of Music Festival.”

I don’t like following crowds and have a naturally occurring cynicism of trends. That said, there’s one holiday promotional movement that strikes a real chord with me.

I’m talking about the “Small Business Saturday” or “Shop Small Saturday,” whatever name one chooses as a label. It’s this Saturday (Nov. 27), and the concept is to shop at the privately owned businesses in large and small towns across the nation as a way of supporting all they do to help their local communities.

Lightning. It’s a yellow, 20-ounce Vaughn framing hammer with one of the claws broken that I’ve owned for about 34 years. It was purchased brand new at a building supply store in Boone, along with the leather tool belt and speed square that I also still use.

This past Saturday, I spent hours finishing the floor joists on what will eventually be a 20-foot-by-16-foot shed and workshop. This is the workshop I’ve been putting off building for, oh, about 20 years.

Asheville is red hot in more ways than I can list here. Pick up a travel magazine, visit an outdoor adventure website, listen to interviews with famous musicians or screen stars, or read articles discussing best places to visit, retire, live, eat or open a business and Asheville is among the places brought up.

I know that’s not breaking news, but the fact that we all know it’s the truth is why I think it was a smart idea for Haywood County to partner with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce for economic development marketing.

Local politics in Western North Carolina have long been dominated by the good ole boys. But like they say about winter in “The Game of Thrones,” change is coming.

I’ve spent much of my career as a journalist — the past 25 years — covering the towns and counties west of Buncombe County, watching as local civic leaders made decisions that have had lasting effects on the region. Aside from Sylva — which has a long tradition of female leaders in politics and business — it’s been a game dominated by old white guys.

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has its boots on.”

That’s one of the few quotes or sayings I can summon up at will. At some point it was etched into my memory. An internet search credits it to Terry Pratchett, a recently deceased but very popular British author of fantasy novels whom I have never read.

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