Falling into place

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First year with LaFollette Press marks milestone

By Sam Smith

It has now been a year since my first column with the LaFollette Press. People say time flies when you’re having fun, but I think we’re a forgetful bunch.

I’ve had a particularly bad memory ever since a concussion I had in 2012 during one of my less responsible weekends as an undergraduate, but my reflection on this past year conjures a great deal of memories.

I credit this pool of memories largely to my work with the Press.

Just as the fall of 2013 was beginning, I was rediscovering my hometown after several years of living in Johnson City. A position in newspapers is an ideal lens through which to view a community, and I was seeing a staggering range of human-interest stories each week from every outskirt of Campbell County. It was a welcome and much-needed change from my post-graduation jobs, none of which had much to do with writing beyond jotting down my hours.

This job fuels me with the kind of pressure that challenges me and helps me grow as a writer and a person. I have made mistakes and I have achieved milestones.

I have been brought to tears by some of my assignments, from the death of a freshman who loved playing the drums to the struggle of those not unlike me overcoming generational poverty.

I have had to catch my breath from laughter interviewing subjects like a self-described psychic witch and an animal-obsessed soldier — not to mention the candid humor found in editing hundreds of letters to Santa, a favorite of mine being a request for “pink boots, an iPhone and a pooping baby.” I have participated in powwows, hunted for the ever-mythological snipes and braved an episodic election season. No other job has demanded more of me or further compelled me to journey inward.

It is appropriate that I began working here at the start of autumn, the season I have always loved most. It is a season defined by change — from its colors to its temperatures. It is during these months of fall that I most often confront myself with the danger of being a creature of habit.

This is the time of year I am wired to ask myself, “What next?”

In journalism, it’s a question that answers itself. Tomorrow’s front-page story is next. The calendar events in my inbox are next. The obituary for my eighth-grade English teacher is next. The conversation about bullying in schools is next.

I have been fortunate this past year to work where I can easily find an answer to what is next for me, short- and long-term. I had the opportunity last month to fly to Iowa for consideration to become the assistant editor of a sister paper. I wasn’t given the position. I wasn’t ready for it. It wasn’t next for me.

The Press’ editor Brent Schanding and business manager Karen Cumorich have moved on to what is next for them. If not for Brent or Karen, I wouldn’t be writing this column. If not for Brent, I probably wouldn’t even have a driver’s license.

This past year, I overcame a longsuffering fear of driving, compounded by my awful 20/70 vision. I have Brent to thank for that push out of my self-made nest, along with how far the LaFollette Press has come in its depth of quality and coverage — which led the Tennessee Press Association to honor us with more accolades than Titanic received in Academy Awards. What is next for the Press? What is next for the community?

I’m out of touch with the psychic witch of yesteryear, but I have a feeling the answer to what is next is simple: in the news as it comes, the news and the changing of the leaves.

Sam Smith is the Editorial Assistant for the LaFollette Press. Email him at ssmith@ lafollettepress.com.