If a woman in her early 30s can be said to be a veteran in her field, Tanya Mitchell, who will be filing her last stories for VillageSoup/The Republican Journal this week, is that person. After 13 years of reporting the ups and downs of life in Waldo County under the banners of three weekly publications, Mitchell is leaving the paper to take a job with the city of Belfast. And though she hasn’t ruled out writing down the road, the immediate future will unfold off the record.

Her reporting career started in 1997. In those pre-millennial days, Mitchell, not yet a reporter, was working at Harborside Graphics and taking correspondence courses in writing. Believing she wanted to do more with her craft, she sent out resumes to the two competing newspapers at the time, The Republican Journal and The Waldo Independent.

“I didn’t think much was going to come out of it,” she said. “I had zero experience going into it.”

Tom Groening, then-editor of the Journal, offered Mitchell a job covering Searsport selectmen’s meetings, and the freelance work eventually led to a part-time gig with the paper. “I would hear something at a selectmen’s meeting and think, ‘that would be a really great feature,’ and I started getting out into the community and meeting people,” she said.

Within a year, she was a full-time reporter, and while her regular beat still centered around Searsport, her datelines now included all corners of the county. She covered town meetings, school board sessions, court hearings, grip-and-grin awards presentations, graduations and parades. She took up the causes of lost animals, celebrated the efforts of volunteer organizations, interviewed aspiring politicians, dutifully logged police blotters, and went to accident scenes, though they made her squeamish.

For a time, she wrote a regular column under the title “Gray Matters,” a reference to the material of the mind — her own — from which the column derived its subject matter. “When people would ask me why it was called ‘Gray Matters,’ I always told them it was better than calling it ‘Brains,'” she said. Later, she described the rejoinder as her “smart-ass explanation.”

The quick wit is characteristic of Mitchell, who, in her regular dealings with Waldo County’s gruffest, thought of herself as “just one of the guys.”

“She earned people’s trust and she earned it quickly,” said VillageSoup/Capital Weekly Editor Beth Staples, who worked with Mitchell first at The Republican Journal and in 2006 hired her to write for the then-upstart VillageSoup and its print counterpart, the Waldo County Citizen. Staples said Mitchell was always ready to do what the paper needed, most notably in a year-long stint as a sports reporter, an assignment that Mitchell — though she had no special interest in it — gamely accepted.

Searsport Town Manager James Gilway, who was police chief when Mitchell arrived on the scene in 1997, said he wished that Mitchell weren’t leaving. “She always gives two sides of the story,” he said. “I’ve never read anything [of hers] that was slanted one way or the other, sometimes to our chagrin.”

Over the years, Mitchell penned a number of investigative series, including a four-part series on animal hoarding — “Apparently, I had a lot to say about it,” she said — and a recent four-part series on domestic violence. For one installment of the latter, she took the unorthodox route of finding a man who had been psychologically abused by his wife. Another installment looked at the effects of domestic violence on children.

Though the dust has yet to clear, Mitchell said the resolution of the Amber Cummings case may be one of the more memorable stories she has covered. In 2008 Cummings shot her husband, James Cummings, in their High Street home in Belfast. During the sentencing, evidence emerged that the wife had been abused and manipulated by her husband to a degree that shocked many seasoned law enforcement and judiciary officials. “I felt an incredible amount of sadness for her, sitting there [in the courtroom], then you look around and you see all these people who had come to support her,” Mitchell said.

Looking ahead, Mitchell said she can imagine her work in the future involving some kind of writing. Taking a job with the city she described as a pragmatic decision. As a young reporter, she could roll with the vicissitudes of newspaper industry. “I’ve never heard anyone saying they went into journalism because they wanted to get rich,” she said. But with a son approaching school age, Mitchell was looking for more security.

Beyond the larger upheavals of the print-media industry, Waldo County has had a few of its own tremors in recent years. When the Church Street offices of the Citizen caught fire in 2008 and the staff was relocated to The Republican Journal offices on High Street, several of the reporters approached the building with trepidation, many having left the building once already with no intention of returning. But Mitchell made a beeline for a desk at the center of the newsroom. It was where she had sat when she started with the Journal a decade earlier. The familiarity was comforting, she said.

Earlier this week, Mitchell was there. Her desk was mostly organized, with a notebook or two open to pages of large, looping script. To one side, the screen saver on her computer monitor drew random logarithmic patterns. Amid the familiar scene, Mitchell — accustomed to being on the other side of the interview — was at a loss for words. “It’s crazy,” she said. “I’m still sitting at the same desk where I started.”