COLUMN: Until next time …

Growing up in Concord, I never thought much about Stanly County. In fact, other than driving past Locust and Oakboro to get to the beach, I never had any reason to venture into the county.

But all that changed in January 2019, when I began as a news reporter with the Stanly News & Press. Even though I had a master’s degree in journalism from University of Maryland, where I covered topics across the state and had my stories appear in national publications thanks to the Associated Press, this was my first real reporting gig.

After writing more than 2,100 stories, including numerous stories about the ongoing opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, Friday was my last day with the paper. Beginning next week, I will start as a reporter at my hometown paper, the Independent Tribune.

During my the past five years, Stanly County has represented much more than my coverage area; it’s been a second home for me, as I have gotten to know the people and places that make this county so special. I have covered every type of story imaginable, and even got to experiment with a few film reviews, which was special, as movies have always been a great passion of mine.

SNAP reporter Chris Miller’s last day with the paper was Friday.

From one of my first notable stories, about how a family’s tragedy led to the creation of a program teaching young children how to swim to one of my last, a deep-dive into how elementary teachers are helping students learn to read, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the residents of the county. And I thank them for trusting me with their stories.

Like many journalists, I often battle with imposter syndrome — always wondering whether my latest story is as good as it can be. I am often my own worst critic and many times, once a story has been published, I inevitably find portions that could have been better.

Even though writing can be hard and filled with constant starts-and-stops (along with the dreaded writer’s block), what has kept me energized throughout my tenure with the SNAP has been meeting so many interesting and kind people who have really compelling stories to tell.

Who would have thought a Ukrainian musician living in Troy has personally helped raised more than $200,000 for her homeland in its fight against Russia? Or that an Albemarle florist helped decorate the White House for the Christmas season for several presidential administrations? Or that a New London woman helped many Stanly residents trace their ancestry all the way back to Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas?

Those are just a sliver of the stories that have stuck with me (this column would probably be 6,000 words if I were to try and recall all of them) … and I hope made an impact on others.

As my time with the SNAP has come to a close, I want to thank everyone who has come to me with a story and trusted me to tell it to the best of my ability. I want to thank the people I have talked with over the years, whether they have been long-running sources or those I spoke with just once. I want to thank the SNAP subscribers for continuing to value local journalism, which is still the best way for people to stay informed about what’s happening in their community.

More than anything, I want to thank my colleagues, both past and present, for their friendship and kindness. I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of them and wish them nothing but the best for the future.

It’s not goodbye, exactly, as I will be freelancing from time to time, as needed. For now it’s just…until next time.

Chris Miller.