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Commentary: A farewell letter

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Tori Keafer

Tori Keafer is the associate editor for CMD Publishing, including The Williamson Herald and Southern Exposure Magazine. 

Wednesday was my last day at the Williamson Herald. It feels strange to leave a job that I have given so much of myself to and that has given so much back. But while I may be saying farewell to news reporting for now, I will always take with me the spirit it has cultivated in me. 

On one of my first days at the Herald, our former Managing Editor Kerri Bartlett took me to a transportation summit hosted by Williamson, Inc. It took place in a big ballroom with hundreds of people in suits and dresses who had strong opinions about traffic, growth and public transit. A fitting introduction to reporting in Williamson County. 

After the presentation, she told me — a timid not-even-Millennial in jeans — to “go talk to people.” I knew no one in the room, so I just wandered around, looking for people who I didn’t think I’d be bothering too much with my presence. By pure luck, I happened to pick out just the right ones to give informed answers to my no-doubt ignorant and lackluster questions. 

Just before we left, when I had thought I was free to indulge my shyness by shrinking into my car for a silent ride back to the office, Kerri pointed across the room: “Oh, there’s Matt Largen, the CEO. Why don’t you go talk to him, too?” I had never so much as looked at a CEO, and here was fresh-out-of-college me dawdling over to have a chat with one. I have no idea what I said to him that day or what impression I made, but I do remember he was friendly and welcoming. He didn’t laugh at my questions. He treated me like an adult and took time to explain things to me until I understood. 

Matt set the tone for me in Williamson County. Sure, I’ve been in Franklin since I was 9, but things look different when you’re suddenly faced with the responsibility to keep people informed about a community they already know better than you do. I was terrified. But in 2.5 years, I have been encouraged and embraced by so many people in government board rooms, in front of new businesses, at nonprofit fundraisers, on living room couches, in front yards, in my home office over the phone. 

As a journalist, it’s sometimes easy to feel the pressure of having to be an expert about everything. Obviously, that’s impossible, and I know now that the role of the journalist is not to have all the answers but to recognize when you don’t have them and go searching. I had to decide early on in this job: Am I going to be the person who pretends to know what people are talking about in an attempt to build rapport and gain respect, or am I going to admit my ignorance and learn something? I chose to learn, and I’m forever grateful to the people who have lent me their expertise so I didn’t have to come up with it on my own. 

To say the past couple years have been hard is no surprise to anyone. My emotions have run the gamut. I’ve been confused, discouraged, angry, sad, disappointed. I’ve also been uplifted, inspired, emboldened and supported. I’ve left interviews shedding tears of frustration and anxiety, and I’ve closed conversations with tears of hope. Now, it’s time for a change of pace, some rest for the poor heart I’ve put through the wringer, but I’ll cherish the experiences I’ve had as a reporter. I’m proud of the person this job and this community have shaped me into. 

Thank you to Derby and Cassie Jones for giving me a shot and for giving me space to run. The Herald is and always will be precious to me, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play a part in its story. 

I’m very excited to share that I will soon be starting communications work for One Generation Away. Chris and Elaine Whitney have been two shining examples of the encouragement I’ve received from this community, and I can’t wait to join them in their mission. 

There are so many more good things to come. And now, onwards.

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