A final note from the field

I’ve been sitting here, on and off for days, staring at this screen and wondering where to start with the end.

This is my last edition with The Courier. And it is kind of surreal to make that statement.

Some of you, I have already told. Some of you have simply found out — that’s the way small towns work, after all. But to all of you, whether you liked my work or not, I want to say, thank you.

Thank you, for putting up with my sub-par design work starting in August 2010. I finally broke into this industry as an Athens Messenger reporter and The Courier’s copy and design editor — and had to learn to cut my teeth fast. Regretfully, I never turned out to be much of a designer, and extend my sincerest gratitude to Meriah Bond, our page designer for the past year, for making the paper look so much better. She’s the wizard behind the curtain who has never complained when she has to tear apart her front page for late-breaking news.

Thank you, for teaching me what “local news” really meant and second chance during those days. There is one letter to the editor that I will never forget for as long as I live. It came to me in the winter of 2010-11, following an AP photo I ran on the front page of an American cardinal, sitting on a branch covered in hoary frost in Illinois. Our local news content was a bit lean in those days and it was a judgement call that I should have known better to make. The letter skewered The Courier — skewered me — for that photograph and I vowed from thenceforth to do better by your community.

Thank you, for standing by this newspaper during times of change. From my transition into the reporting field, to the website redesign, to the new paywall system. Through social media integration and video reporting, online daily publication and subscription issues — we work long and strange hours in this business to bring you as much news as we possibly can, across as many platforms as we can. The industry grows and changes daily, but we would be nothing without our hometown (and out-of-town) readers.

Thank you, for welcoming me into your community. You all well know that I didn’t grow up here; I didn’t even grow up in this region. But you welcomed me anyway. Things were a little touch-and-go at first, as we worked out a level of trust and comfort. Some of you never warmed up to me, and that’s perfectly fine. You kept me level, kept me objective, kept me doing my job right. I’ve never known a place quite like Vinton County. It’s like a postcard from a forgotten dream, a place that is lush and timeless, full of hard-working people who fight every day to keep it that way. As cheesy and overblown as it may sound, it’s been an honor serving you for the past two years.

Thank you, for befriending me. You know who you are. All across this county, I’ve picked up a collection of two, four and even three-legged friends (shout out to Deputy Dooley and Yoshi for those last two categories!) that I shall always cherish. I’ve long felt a deep connection with the land and the culture in our neck of the Appalachian wilderness, but it’s only been recently that I’ve felt a deep connection with the people. Living in Athens, it’s been hard for me to drop anchor, hard to find purchase in the transient river that is a college town. People come, people go, some stay and some have never left, but Vinton County has become my still, limpid pool in the edge of the riverbank. The one that is still teeming with life and moving water, but yet offers respite from the rapids.

Thank you, to Brandi Betts. Your enthusiasm for the history, the present and the future of this community is palpable. You were in my shoes long before I was, and I hope I did them justice. Thank you, for every story lead, for every explanation of why the way things are as they are, for giving me “the look” when I have said or done something stupid. Thank you for introducing me to people, for giving me driving directions to places that now seem so obvious and for not punching me in the face the first (and last) time I gave you a hug. You’ve been a major asset to this newspaper, both through putting up with me and through your stringer work. You know a good story when you see one and I know a good heart when I meet one.

Finally, thank you to Annie Gosling. None of the above would have been possible without your guidance. I know you were unsure of me that first year. I was just another editor, following a line of predecessors that was constantly turning over. And it kills me to leave you now. Thank you, for not instantly writing me off when I came to report for you. (Or if you did, thanks for the second chance.) Thank you, for being patient every time I asked “Wait, that’s the sheriff’s office phone number again?” Thank you, for holding the camera, whether we were reporting from a murder scene or shooting video in Moonville Tunnel in the rain. Thank you, for going out to cover breaking news when I was too far away. Thank you, for listening to my crazy stories, for asking me “What did you do now?” and making me tell you. Thank you, for being there for me, for letting me cry over heartbreak just long enough before telling me to suck it up and get back to work. Thank you, for letting me teach Gannon how to do birdcalls and for taking me go get Chef Mary’s (on second thought, I curse you for that indulgence.) Thank you, for being an invaluable team member, for being my news partner, for being one of my most trusted friends.

I won’t be going too far, gang. I’ll be running communications for the Athens County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, building proverbial bridges across the region to help pump life into our economy and show people how amazing, beautiful and flush with promise this land and its people are. Stand with me. Manage your homeland’s resources wisely and protect each other. Fight back against the drug trade, don’t put up with the violence. Teach your children love and respect, build a firm foundation so that they may reach their full potential. You’re leaving this phenomenal county in their hands and I look forward to seeing the great things to come.

Thank you. Merci mille fois. And I’ll see you soon.

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