The news we all make

When I was in journalism school a decade ago, we scrambled to keep up with advances in our field, many of them technological: digital cameras, Web-based research and publishing, and the like. But we were still following the same underlying model that had driven our profession for more than a century: We were the experts, the gatekeepers, the sole generators and providers of news; you were the news consumers, and it was our job to deliver it to you.

What a difference a decade can make. Today, some news providers, Mountain Xpress among them, are reinventing our role, with an ever-increasing emphasis on collaboration with readers. In the past year, we've experimented with numerous initiatives that take us off our journalistic high horse and decentralize how local information is gathered and shared. Along the way, we've started crafting systems and an overall approach that are grounded in citizen journalism — and we've only just begun.

Despite all these changes, Xpress' mission remains the same. In a nutshell, it is "to build community and strengthen democracy by serving an engaged, thoughtful constituency at the local level — where the impact of citizen action is greatest." What's changed is the potential impact of citizen action on local journalism itself.

In other words, as much as we want to help readers stay informed and active, we also want to serve as a forum, a gathering place, a hub where many networks of connections and communications come together. As much as we want to serve you, we now want to serve with you.

Amid all the lofty abstractions about citizen journalism, we're talking about something concrete: a functional model in which every concerned reader has the potential to generate and share the news. And in fact, many of you are doing so already. You're blogging. You're tweeting. You're on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. You have the tools, and you're using them to send and shape your own news.

Of course, we can't claim to know precisely what form these new approaches — including our own — will ultimately take. The pace of technological change is accelerating, and no doubt the months and years to come will bring innovations we can't even imagine yet.

In the meantime, however, we're exploring how the new technologies and new model can foster collaboration with thoughtful citizens in unprecedented ways. These initiatives include:

MXNow A live local-news stream, it uses the microblogging program Twitter to collect and share readers' dispatches on topics ranging from politics and the environment to entertainment, agriculture and much more. You'll find the stream on the right-hand side of our home page, www.mountainx.com, in a yellow box. So far, more than a dozen readers have volunteered to partner with our own staff members in sharing the news they come across.

Blogwire Also on our home page is this local-news aggregator, providing a space for reports that are necessarily longer than the 140-character limit on Twitter. One of our newest ventures, Blogwire is mostly compiled by Xpress staff for now, but we've signed up a few readers to contribute there as well, and we're actively seeking more.

Xpress Forums, at www.mountainx.com/forums, is a virtual town hall — and sometimes more like a virtual free-for-all. Registration is free, and any registered member of our Web site can launch and/or contribute to discussions on just about anything under the sun.

In addition to these features, we've worked to open our Web site to community contributions wherever we can, from online comments on all our stories to reader-submitted photos and videos to free classifieds.

And looking ahead, we have big plans for 2010. We're planning to build a hub database/Web site serving the Asheville area where readers can create, manage and distribute community-focused content using the most advanced methods available — some of which we will develop ourselves. The project will train citizens, collaborate with area software developers, and generate revenue via a local ad network.

Of course, this grand shift in the way our society gathers and shares news doesn't always come easily for us; it can be hard to let go of old ways, of old understandings, and adopt new ones. And indeed, there are key parts of our profession that we'll hang onto till someone pries the keyboards from our aching hands: We'll still gather and disseminate crucial news on our own. We'll still sit through the lengthy local-government meetings that aren't everyone's idea of a good time. We'll still do the kind of long-term, in-depth investigations that don't (or don't yet) seem to lend themselves to crowdsourcing or citizen journalism. We'll still count on experienced photographers and designers to make what we do look as artful as possible.

But we won't cling to the outmoded approach that delivers news top-down, strictly from us to you. Maybe not everyone wants to be a journalist, but we're rapidly approaching an era when anyone can be a journalist of one sort or another. And as the impacts of these fundamental changes spread, we want to be able to say that Xpress helped pave the way for a new kind of journalism that's richer, more diffuse, more responsive and more empowering than the way we used to do it. Here's hoping you'll join us and share in the exciting evolution of the way local matters become local news.

Managing Editor Jon Elliston wants to hear from readers interested in collaborating with Mountain Xpress. He can be reached at jelliston@mountainx.com, or at 251-1333, ext. 127.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

233 thoughts on “The news we all make

  1. Hank Kennesaw

    Laudatory Jon. Laudatory. I do hope that means more local Ashevillian views will be allowed on MX, to mingle with the 20-something transplant views. In the past, more traditional, Southern, views have been stiffled here. I do hope that has come to an end. Because Asheville is a town where the locals are yelled over by young transplants from Jersey and Miami and Phildelphia. Heck, if people want to retain that kind of attitude, they should’ve stayed back home in the unfriendly environs of the North.

    Yes, I’d love to see MX be a true citizen-driven publication. Afterall, we’re all in this together. Besides, might as well open it up. Because with the internet and, now, Twitter, news has completely changed anyway. Newspapers are passe and going out of business. Even the New York Times (I refuse to capitalize the “t” in “the” like they do), is hurting in ciculation and capital. Oooops, that’s one of the downsides to allowing citizens in. We use politically incorrect language like “capital”, “Church”, “God”, “patriotism”, “mom-sweet potato pie-see the USA in your Chevrolet”. -g)

  2. Ken Hanke

    Hmmm, Hank Kennesaw. Seems I’ve heard all this before under another name…under several other names, in fact.

  3. Eli Cohen

    Mr. Kennersaw, are you a Vietnam Veteran? Try reading The New York Times, if you have the intellectual capacity…

  4. Asheville Dweller

    Yes, because reading The New York Times makes you an Intellectual . . . .

  5. Kenneth Hinckey

    Yes, because reading The New York Times makes you an Intellectual . . . .

    Yeah right. I find that many people who read the NYT are full of themselves. They are so closed minded in their political dogmas that they are about as far away from a true intellectual as you can get. Because a true intellectual realizes they don’t “know it all” and therefore are always open to new information, and different points of view. I’m glad we have true democratic dissemination of news now. And I am glad that the Mountain Xpress will be on the bandwagon. Not surprising because the Mountain Xpress has always been cutting edge.

  6. Asheville Dweller

    Sorry Sarcasm doesnt come across well . . I know it doesn’t but some on this very Rags board beleive it and believe is Intellectual as well, now thats a joke as well.

  7. Cullen

    Anyone who I don’t like or who doesn’t agree with me is a yankee transplant. Even the ones who were born and raised here. They are still transplants, because they don’t agree with me. Simple. I am that quintessential Southern Man, and I speak for all of the South, for WNC, and for Asheville.

    So, what I am really saying is, more Cullen at the Mountain Xpress. And more delusional pseudo-southern cliches hiding behind yet another obviously manufactured pen-name. That’s the REAL Asheville. The one in my head!

  8. Ken Hanke

    Mr. Kennersaw, are you a Vietnam Veteran?

    Oh, if that was a bet, you wouldn’t find many people on here willing to take it — about Mr. Kennesaw or his obvious latest alter ego. Railing about meat-eating and John Waters, and extolling the virtues of Larry the Cable Guy cannot be far behind.

  9. Jerry Thornton

    Mountain Xpress has done it again. From Green Sheet to a weekly that eclipses the mainline town paper AC-T. Way to go guys!

    Hey I have to agree with the post above that avers that New York Times readers have a tendancy to be self-absorbed, yuppie “I’ve got life figured out” kind of “sophisticated” people. And often they have moved here from Chicago, New York, or another state in the yankee northeast. These people tend to have plenty of criticisms of local people and the customs here. And long for their home states. Huh? Why would someone move here and complain like this. The obvious solution is to move back home. The Manhattan people can have the New York Times on every corner or have it delivered. Living back in Manhattan, they can feel smug and above the flyover people of North Carolina, the rest of the South, and any other place that doesn’t have exhorbitant taxes, corruption large government machines, rampant crime, and plenty of “alternative lifestyle” mainstreamed. Heck, move back to Mass and you NYT readers can get married to your same sex partner. What’s keeping you here? Why not move back to those “superior” areas you came from, then visit here to rub it in, as a tourist?

  10. Piffy!

    North Carolin is a “Flyover state”? To where? Texas? Georgia? Ahh, right, Argentina.

    also, cullen, you’ll have to change more than your name if you want to make it even a little less obvious.

  11. Hank Kennesaw

    I would say Mr Thorton is talking about the New Yorker point of view that the universe revolves around NYC. It’s common up there, as well as Chicago. So to a NYer or Chicagoite, the rest of the country is “flyover”, particularly the mainly rural states. I know someone from NYC who derisively said “how can we allow a flyover state like Iowa to be so important in picking a president? The primaries should all start in NY and MA.”

    I also get tired of the whining that goes on by folks that moved here from the Northeast, Chicago, and Florida. Got a song that sums up my feelings on the subject (edited a bit for politically correct reasons).

    “Love It Or Leave It” — (apologies to Merle Haggard for my edit)

    “I hear people talkin’ bad,
    About the way we have to live here in this country,
    Harpin’ on the wars we fight,
    An’ gripin’ ’bout the way things oughta be.
    An’ I don’t mind ‘em switchin’ sides,
    An’ standin’ up for things they believe in.
    When they’re runnin’ down my country, man,
    They’re walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.
    Yeah, walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.
    Runnin’ down the way of life,
    Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep.
    If you don’t love it, leave it:
    Let this song I’m singin’ be an education.
    If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
    You’re walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.

    I read about some squirrely guy,
    Who claims, he just don’t believe in fightin’.
    An’ I wonder just how long,
    The rest of us can count on bein’ free.
    They love our milk an’ honey,
    But they preach about some other way of livin’.
    When they’re runnin’ down my country, hoss,
    They’re walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.

    Yeah, walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.
    Runnin’ down the way of life,
    Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep.
    If you don’t love it, leave it:
    Let this song I’m singin’ be an education.
    If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
    You’re walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.

    Yeah, walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.
    Runnin’ down the way of life,
    Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep.
    If you don’t love it, leave it:
    Let this song I’m singin’ be an education.
    If you’re runnin’ down my country, man,
    You’re walkin’ on the patriotic side of me.”

    Don’t be squirrely y’all. Be a person with gratitude for the many good things we have in Asheville, the South, and the country at large. Quitcherwhinin and be more grateful!

    God bless you all on this, the birthday celebration of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. And may our local “Prince of Peace”, the Reverend Billy Graham, have good health this next year and for many years to come! And the next time we need to name something around here, let’s name it after the good Reverend Graham!

    MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR Y’ALL!!!

  12. Piffy!

    So, Cullen/Willard comes to this thread under three different names to complain, bitch, and moan about ‘outsiders’ of all kinds, and then ends his post with: [b]“Don’t be squirrely y’all. Be a person with gratitude for the many good things we have in Asheville, the South, and the country at large. Quitcherwhinin and be more grateful![/b]

    I love it! The man is beyond genius! He’s like an unintentional “Borat” sort of character!

  13. Piffy!

    Oh, and let us not forget he is now redefining the term ‘flyover state’ to include states that arent anywhere near the middle of the country, or between two major cities!. Love it!

    Damn Yanquis!

  14. News Hound

    Mr.Kennesaw (even if that is a pseudonym) at least commented on the topic of the article. The others, including one of Mountain Express’s own regular contributors (is he a staffer?) then proceeded to attack him. Why would any “citizen journalist” want to contribute and leave him/herself open to this kind of abuse? Mr. Publisher, can you suggest that your staffers and regular contributors reply only to comments about their own contributions and then to correct and clarify, not attack the readers?

    Next, what incentives, other than perhaps seeing their names/opinions in digital-print, can Mountain Express offer to “citizen journalists?” Gathering news, checking sources and facts, writing decent prose, are time-consuming. Citizen-Times is trying an experiment with offering some financial help to the small sample of blogs it has chosen to “LINC” to (or so I understand). Even running a Website costs money and doesn’t generate income.

  15. Jeff Fobes

    Hello, News Hound.

    I thought Hank Kennesaw more or less hi-jacked the topic at hand, that of Xpress Editor Jon Elliston’s thoughts about new journalism and Xpress’ part in it. Kennesaw seemed more interested in making sure that a certain segment of the community gets more voice. Granted, he said hoped that citizen-powered media would let more voices join in, it’s just that he transitioned directly into which voices.

    I agree that Kennesaw was jumped on by several folks, including Xpress’ freelance movie reviewer, Ken Hanke, who called Kennesaw out for sock-puppeting, a ongoing online fight that’s been jumping from one Xpress comment-thread to another for some time.

    Personnally, I’m a proponent of much tighter moderation on websites for the reason you noted: Why expose oneself to so much abuse? I think it’s possible to tighten the rules and encourage more thoughtful dialogue. But I’m also of a tolerant mind (or I try to be), which means I’m open to experimentation — and the Internet is nothing if not experimentation. However, I don’t agree that staffers and regular contributors should be restricted to correcting and clarifying, without being allowed to attack (especially in a Wild West free-for-all that some of these discussion remind of); the rule you propose is one we follow to some degree in print, although even there staff can go beyond correcting and clarifying.

    As to incentives for citizen journalists, I’m all for them. I think this is something that we’ll see in the emerging chapters of social and networked media. The Citizen-Times was fortunate to land a grant, which pays for LINC’s incentives to local bloggers. Hooray for that experiment. Xpress is starting a local online ad network whose mission is to help raise revenue for local bloggers and websites. By the way, we do pay citizen journalists: the garden, outdoors and theatre columnists who appear in Mountain Xpress receive compensation for their contributions, as do some writers who appear in the Commentary section. Plus, we’re discussing internally ways to provide more financial rewards to others who collaborate in news gathering, reporting and curating.

  16. I think the high-jack of this thread exemplifies one of the many problems with the new school “blog-o-sphere” journalism Jon Eliston seems to be encouraging. Clearly the need for some form of “gate-keeping” can’t be ignored if you intend for this experiment to yield the result of sustained intelligent community participation.

    And while I applaud Eliston’s ostensible reason for embracing this new tack in the course of journalism, the idea of “opening up” our beloved Mt Xpress to a more diverse range of viewpoints, I will have to wait and see if that is in fact what happens. I kind of get the feeling that what we will get is simply more fluff like the article last week about real live hamsters vs. Zhu Zhu pets, or more pieces about someone’s pet cat getting a shave. And I suspect there will still be some serious old school “gate-keeping” going on when it comes to publishing certain content in the Mt Xpress.

    I can think of a great many articles that need to be written here in WNC that remain unwritten. How about delving into Heath Shuler’s career trajectory, our Local Blue Dog Democrat in the House? How about looking into the fact that this fiscal conservative that coat-tailed into office in 2008 has earmarked close to 900,000 dollars for red wolves, but only set aside 200,000 for city transportation improvements? You could tag it this way: “Blue Dawg Puts Wolves Before People.” You could also do an article about the 130,000 Shuler took from big insurance in his bid for office and how that has affected his “philosophy” about healthcare reform. Did anyone here know that Heath’s office is located in a former mental hospital ward and that if you want to schedule an appointment you have to go to a nurse’s station window and speak through a metal grill in the glass to a secretary before being told that the your Representative is not available? I bet Heath’s make-shift office is yet another perk from some Health Care Company, ostensibly helping our fiscal conservative keep the tax payer’s money safe and sound in the US Treasury. Where is the investigation? Where is the fourth estate asking the tough questions of our elected officials?

    This brings me to another point of contention with Elliston’s bid to open up the Xpress to “Hoi Palloi” journalism. I do not agree with Eliston that anyone can be a good journalist, any more than I believe anyone can be a good anesthesiologist. However, I do believe bad journalism can make for some good anesthesiology. I think we need more good journalism and less sedation when it comes to the content of the Mt Xpress. Not only would that be good for “the people” but it would also probably be a boon for this sleepy local rag we all call home.

    Take these two articles written by Jon Elliston back when he was scrambling as a young journalist when he worked for another regional NC rag called The Independent down in Chapel Hill:

    http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid:17747

    http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid:17746

    I don’t think just anyone could have written these two articles. A good piece of journalism takes time. It takes resources. It takes a certain amount of know-how. It takes a certain kind of dedication, and it especially takes commitment from management to actually allow the good journalism to get done in the first place, and then allow it to be printed. You can’t go all sheepish every time a story comes in that seems like it might offend some segment of your readership just because it exposes the underside of some beloved public figure, who is turning out not to be everything his PR team has struggled to make him appear to be.

    If only Mt X had some investigative journalists half as dedicated to turning over stones in WNC as Jon Eliston appears to have been in his hey day down in the Piedmont.

    (I must admit, while I have been critical David Forbes’ journalistic sensibility in the past, I thought he made a good show this week with the investigative cover story on racial profiling within the APD.)

  17. Jeff Fobes

    Lots of good points, DCJ.

    But when it comes to opening up journalism to the people, there’s no avoiding it anymore. The gatekeepers are no longer needed, because everyone is a publisher now.

    The new challenges will be, I think — in addition to the ever-present need to make sure there are professionals on hand investigating — to filter and organize the growing glut of info.

    And one point that seems to get trampled in the weeping and wailing over the end of the old-school news providers: The 20th century’s news, in this country at least, has been mostly crap. Who can afford decent journalism if it’s to be paid for by advertising, and in particular, Madison Avenue advertising? The fact is that advertisers’ agendas have virtually nothing to do with the agendas of citizens with civic debate in their minds. And the headlong rush in the 20th century to create mass-market demand, i.e., predictable consumer behavior, has been the the driving force in mass media.

  18. Jon Elliston

    Thanks, DCJ, for weighing in. You wrote:

    “I can think of a great many articles that need to be written here in WNC that remain unwritten. How about delving into Heath Shuler’s career trajectory, our Local Blue Dog Democrat in the House? How about looking into the fact that this fiscal conservative that coat-tailed into office in 2008 has earmarked close to 900,000 dollars for red wolves, but only set aside 200,000 for city transportation improvements? You could tag it this way: “Blue Dawg Puts Wolves Before People.” You could also do an article about the 130,000 Shuler took from big insurance in his bid for office and how that has affected his “philosophy” about healthcare reform. Did anyone here know that Heath’s office is located in a former mental hospital ward and that if you want to schedule an appointment you have to go to a nurse’s station window and speak through a metal grill in the glass to a secretary before being told that the your Representative is not available? I bet Heath’s make-shift office is yet another perk from some Health Care Company, ostensibly helping our fiscal conservative keep the tax payer’s money safe and sound in the US Treasury. Where is the investigation? Where is the fourth estate asking the tough questions of our elected officials?”

    I agree that the local press needs to explore more questions like some of the ones you raise, and that clearly we’re not getting to them all. Sometimes, in fact often, the fourth estate won’t manage to cover every topic worthy of good journalism. Sometimes, perhaps more often in the future, people outside the fourth estate will start by doing what you’re doing — asking hard questions of public officials — and then follow up by probing and publishing on those questions themselves. Seems to be happening more and more, and that, along with old-school investigative journalism by professionals — which I and many others will continue to do — will add to more disclosure, more discussion and more understanding. That’s what I’m positing.

    And thanks for noting some of my early work. But if you really think my younger days in journalism were my hey day, I’d say that that’s a premature prediction.

  19. AvlResident

    Thanks to Jeff Forbes for his thoughtful reply. I don’t agree with some of your points but, hey, you own (or at least run) the outlet. I’m with DCJ’s comments about citizen-journalism when he/she writes, “I do not agree with Eliston that anyone can be a good journalist, any more than I believe anyone can be a good anesthesiologist. . . . .A good piece of journalism takes time. It takes resources. It takes a certain amount of know-how. It takes a certain kind of dedication, and it especially takes commitment from management to actually allow the good journalism to get done in the first place, and then allow it to be printed.” It sounds like DCJ is a professional journalist. (I don’t agree with DCJ, however, that the piece on so-called racial profiling was a good example of investigative journalism. I think it was “yellow journalism,” as a comment on your staffer’s popular, independent blog Ashvegas suggests.)

    Your say, “By the way, we do pay citizen journalists: the garden, outdoors and theatre columnists who appear in Mountain Xpress receive compensation for their contributions, as do some writers who appear in the Commentary section.” I think contributors like that, who are required to go through your regular editorial process, are called “free-lance journalists,” not “citizen-journalists.”

    You say, “Xpress is starting a local online ad network whose mission is to help raise revenue for local bloggers and websites.” Tell us more, please.

  20. Piffy!

    I wonder if “News Hound” realized that Mr Kennesaw is also “kenneth hinkey” and “jerry thornton” (and numerous other sock puppet accounts), he might understand the context a bit better.

    But i agree with his main point; people like the notorious ‘cullen’ who post the same idiotic, faux-populist “I’m more southern than you” talking points really have no place here as they distract fro the real conversation. It would seem that the Xpres continues to band over backwards to appeal to this faux demographic (is it ‘faux’? well, yes, since these ‘opinions’ are only re-iterated by the EXACT SAME PERSON with an unregistered account posting under multiple names)
    even if it means allowing these very threads to be entirely derailed by them.

    That isnt ‘including the community’. it is allowing one person to pretend to be more than one, and never pointing it out. It’s like Fox News using fake footage, its a lie.

  21. Piffy!

    Edit “Bend over backwards to appeal to a non-existent demographic”

  22. Ken Hanke

    But when it comes to opening up journalism to the people, there’s no avoiding it anymore. The gatekeepers are no longer needed, because everyone is a publisher now.

    The new challenges will be, I think — in addition to the ever-present need to make sure there are professionals on hand investigating — to filter and organize the growing glut of info

    Jeff, it seems to me that the second paragraph more or less cancels out the first. If you need — and you do — “professionals on hand investigating — to filter and organize the growing glut of info,” then you’re talking about gatekeepers under another name. What troubles me about this is the fact that we aren’t even able to weed out the obvious fake accounts and sock puppets seconding their own posts in the comments section. Granted, it’s not the same thing, but it is the same dynamic with the same set of problems.

    The idea that “everyone is a publisher now” is true, but mostly on the surface, since it’s in the best interests of the self-published to latch onto an established engine with a built-in readership. Plus, most of the self-published are less journalists than they are columnists. I’ve nothing against columnists, God knows. I’m a columnist. I am not a journalist. That some of my stuff contains a certain amount of news in that it tells the reader what’s playing or coming and where and when doesn’t change that. The distinction between a journalist and a columnist needs to be kept in mind.

  23. Eamon Martin

    I sincerely applaud Xpress’s efforts to keep up with the times and to provide more participatory forums for the public to weigh in on the issues that matter to them.

    I really like what DCJ and Ken Hanke have said here about the allegedly great equalizing effects of the new media technologies. I share the concern that a rush to celebrate their potential may be overly simplistic and overly optimistic. Lets face it: we’ve had many of these devices for awhile now and it has not led to a tidal wave of amazing citizen investigative reports flooding the net. And before you say “Twittering Iran street protests,” let me preempt that by saying that the reason anyone even stopped to think or care about Twittering Iranian protesters is because there was a concerted effort in the mainstream corporate media (imagine that) to direct the American public’s eyes to those feeds.

    “We’re all journalists now” sounds nice but there is a whiff of forfeiture and relativism in this sentiment that is a just a little bit disturbing. It lets you off the hook with an almost pass-the-buck editorial stance. And the fact remains that not everyone is online, has a budget for a staff of reporters, or a newsprint weekly flagship that commands a large share of readership and advertising.

    Although I acknowledge that the publishing and broadcasting I do as a “citizen journalist”-of sorts has been made possible by some of these developments, I’m under no illusion that there isn’t some level of corporate gatekeeping happening regardless. Our video news program has had stories censored from YouTube (for unexplained reasons) and routinely rejected from Google video for allegedly offensive content when absent profane language or graphic material, we could only deduce that they were politically odious to the gatekeepers.

    As always, it is the means of distribution that largely determines what makes something newsworthy or not. And then supply creates demand. The idea that everyone’s ideas now have equal potential to get sufficient exposure to make an impact on public affairs is not too different than placing one’s faith in a lottery system. It’s a pretty unlikely bet if not altogether futile. And is that really the intellectual bedrock on which we want to rebuild the fourth estate and by extension, the public trust? Let’s just keep our fingers crossed, eh?

    By the way…if you’re interested, check out the history of other recent online content-sharing developments such as Current TV (which we use), once trumpeted as the latest, greatest media democratizer to arrive in the public sphere… Squirrels on waterskis, anyone?

  24. I quite agree with Ken Hanke above: the distinction between a “columnist” and “journalist” needs to be reinvigorated. Everyone has an opinion, and once that opinion is blogged and logged, then that person has become a “columnist.”

    “Everyone can be a columnist” would be a far more accurate way for Eliston to have approached his plea for more citizen involvement. I find it ironic that as the managing “gatekeeper” for the Mt. Xpress, Eliston doesn’t seem to notice, and therefore doesn’t seem to value, the IMPORTANT semantic difference. As a free-lance journalist who has reported for The Asheville Global Report, WPVM and The Mountain Xpress – & only the Xpress paid me for my efforts – I have to wonder what is up with this seemingly lax approach to what defines the profession. A relentless blurring of the lines between dramatic criticism, fare like Edgy Mama’s fluff and investigative reporting is a major part of the problem Fobes alludes to when he says, “20th century journalism has been mostly crap.”

    I agree with Jeff, right now mainstream corporately run media is a trough of undifferentiated slop, for sure … and it is intentionally so, thanks to a crop of “gatekeepers,” corporately selected to shape the field, grease the wheels.

    Elevating celebrity gossip is but one trend that denigrates the profession, and I can’t help but notice that the Xpress could not help jumping into that particular echo chamber with the national media’s roasting of a golfer who has had ye gads! … an affair! (maybe 2 … or 3) True, his billboards are all over our fair town and he has let his name and image be used for a multi-million dollar development here in WNC, but the Xpress decided to give further credence to our “National Inquirer” mass media by quoting a bunch of glib, talking-head “journalists” from the majors … ABC, CNN, MSNBC and so on. Why? This story was not worthy of the cover. Who cares what the PR people at the Cliffs think is going to happen to their investment? But there goes the our Xpress, quick to play ball with the rest of the “journalists.”

    I think for Jeff Fobes to claim that “gatekeepers” are no longer needed at the outset of his post and then to say at the end of his post that what is really needed is someone to organize “the glut of material” is contradictory. Editors are gatekeepers. Editors manage the glut of info, be it journalism, Op-Eds, Criticism or Columns. The Editor, under the influence of his financier, the publisher, determines the content of the publication, and this in turn affects public discourse. The editor filters what “news” gets into print, and what “non-news” stays out. It is the editor who decides that Edgy Mama’s pieces about cuddly four-leggeds take precedence over say an article about Heath Shuler or Chuck Taylor, or Red Wolves vs City Bussing.

    Now, what is up with this managing editor, always claiming in his best Norman Rockwell boyscout voice:

    “Gee Wally, I agree that the local press needs to explore more questions like some of the ones you raise, and that clearly we’re not getting to them all. Sometimes, in fact often, the fourth estate won’t manage to cover every topic worthy of good journalism.”

    Am I really supposed to believe that??? I find this stock answer bordering on disingenuous. Are you you simply over-loaded with some great list of important stories, but are just so swamped that you can’t get to all the ones that matter? If so could you please divulge the list that you are not getting all the way through each week? Isn’t it the job of a good gatekeeper to peruse the entire list and THEN DECIDE what stories are actually important? Shouldn’t that be the editor/gatekeeper’s function, to have the local public interest in mind when managing the “glut of information?” Why is Tiger Woods’ infidelity and the impact it may, or may not have on a golf course/land deal in Black Mountain more important to us as citizens than say Heath Shuler’s first year in office???

    What goes on in that editor’s suite? Who is the idea man/woman up there? Do you have enough money in the budget to get another one? A stipend for a part time idea person? Someone outside the normal “news” bubble, maybe? (I have an excellent candidate in mind.) Why not let him or her sit in on the ed. suite meetings each week and throw out some story ideas about local issues that are not getting covered? He or she could work exclusively with Forbes. Eliston could still gatekeep, play red light green light, but you know, some of the ideas might be really worthy and actually “safe” enough to roll with (“safe” here meaning not offending your revenue stream), and then you would not be stuck putting a facsimile of a hackneyed Tiger Woods billboard on your cover and calling it “news.”

  25. Eamon Martin

    And when I say “forfeiture” I mean not only relinquishing the traditional role of public guardian and watchdog, but specifically, possible forfeiture to market forces.

    Issuing hard-hitting exposes is much different than brazenly embracing these tools as some sort of institutional rebrand as a “neutral” or “objective” facilitator. It’s a fallacy too. Having no stance is a stance in and of itself.

    What comes to mind now, Jeff, was the overblown flap recently after you had given some brief prominence on the Xpress homepage Twitter feed to something by Tim Peck saying something like The Global Report wasn’t reporting on Climategate (which of course, wasn’t true). But it was your editorial judgment that deemed Mr. Peck’s silly statement to be newsworthy of consideration to the viewing public.

    As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker (Spider-Man): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

  26. Will the once and future journalist (who is now just a year shy of forty-I still have your birthday present-BTW) please rise, already?

    Regarding “hey days” …

    If we look at Eliston’s “hey-day” back at The Independent we can easily witness five years of steady solid investigative journalism. I post here a not quite complete list of what he once did. Just read the titles of each article and imagine the possibilities. (If you want to actually read any of them in total, go to indyweek.com and search their archives.)

    The disaster that shouldn’t have been
    Warnings about FEMA fell on deaf ears
    By Jon Elliston | 7 Sep 2005

    Chatham man cleared by judge
    Immigration court rules that Juan Manuel Reyes-Alonso told Homeland Security about his background, as he had insisted. Now, he just has to find $27,000 to pay his lawyers.
    By Jon Elliston | 6 Jul 2005

    An unflinching look at reproduction rights
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Mar 2005

    Hard landing
    Amid protests, the Navy presses its case
    By Jon Elliston | 19 Jan 2005 (News: Feature)

    A man of the times
    A new accounting of Zeb Vance, Civil War-era governor
    By Jon Elliston | 29 Dec 2004

    The past is present
    A look back at COINTELPRO
    By Jon Elliston | 22 Dec 2004

    $66,000 later, Reyes-Alonso is released
    By Jon Elliston | 1 Dec 2004

    El Pueblo votes!
    The Raleigh-based advocacy group helps secure political rights for North Carolina Latinos
    By Jon Elliston | 24 Nov 2004

    Back to the School
    By any name, an institution worth repudiating
    By Jon Elliston | 17 Nov 2004

    Juan Manuel Reyes-Alonso, a Cuban immigrant who has lived near Pittsboro for four years, is suddenly in the crosshairs of PATRIOT Act-era justice
    By Jon Elliston | 3 Nov 2004

    Dick: The Man Who is President
    by John Nichols
    By Jon Elliston | 27 Oct 2004

    Politics, glorious and otherwise
    Two books examine the good, the bad and how to lie with a smile on your face
    By Jon Elliston | 29 Sep 2004

    A Disaster Waiting to Happen
    As FEMA weathers a storm of Bush administration policy and budget changes, protection from natural hazards may be trumped by “homeland security.”
    By Jon Elliston | 22 Sep 2004

    Sam Currin caught in the crossfire
    By Jon Elliston | 18 Aug 2004

    Trash heaps of New York
    Pawing through the world of dumpster divers
    By Jon Elliston

    High times
    The prairie populist strikes again
    By Jon Elliston | 28 Jul 2004

    Cutting through the guff
    A cartoonist examines the hidden liberal in everyone
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Jun 2004

    Finding some truth in Colombia
    More Terrible than Death, by Robin Kirk
    By Jon Elliston | 19 May 2004

    Cop accused of faking FBI ties sues town
    By Jon Elliston | 19 May 2004

    Local activist cleared of Philadelphia RNC charges
    By Jon Elliston | 14 Apr 2004

    The hip-hop nation gets political
    By Jon Elliston | 31 Mar 2004

    The Indy Bookshelf
    Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century by Stan Goff
    By Jon Elliston | 10 Mar 2004

    New coalition joins the fight for freedom of information
    By Jon Elliston | 10 Mar 2004

    Boston political charity expanding south
    By Jon Elliston | 25 Feb 2004

    She fought back
    Mabel Williams, North Carolina’s black power heroine, returns home to screen a documentary about her husband, Robert F. Williams
    By Jon Elliston | 11 Feb 2004

    Collateral damages
    While Butner families wait for the Army to clean up its bombs, a Pentagon task force blasts the funding shortage for unexploded ordnance removal
    By Jon Elliston | 4 Feb 2004

    The journalist and the G-men
    Revealed: (Part of) what the FBI hid in its secret file on North Carolina broadcaster Charles Kuralt
    By Jon Elliston | 26 Nov 2003 (News: Feature)

    The Indy Bookshelf
    The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter
    By Jon Elliston | 12 Nov 2003

    The Indy Bookshelf
    Thieves in High Places, by Jim Hightower
    By Jon Elliston | 24 Sep 2003

    After the molehunts
    At the Raleigh espionage conference, a subterfuge of spies, lies and family ties
    By Jon Elliston | 3 Sep 2003

    Faking It
    Chapel Hill cop resigns, another is suspended, after Indy expose
    By Jon Elliston | 11 Jun 2003

    “Silly cops!”
    Chapel Hill Police officers are under investigation for allegedly impersonating FBI agents
    By Jon Elliston | 4 Jun 2003

    “The FBI has been reading my diary”
    A student is mistakenly targeted as an investigation blurs the line between local and federal law enforcement
    By Jon Elliston | 28 May 2003

    Accidents will happen
    By Jon Elliston | 21 May 2003

    Front Porch
    Another Butner bomb
    By Jon Elliston | 7 May 2003

    Watching the Watchers
    Computer professionals weigh the risks of information-age government snooping
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Apr 2003

    Freedom of Information
    Concerns have come full circle
    By Jon Elliston | 16 Apr 2003

    Still Singing Dixie
    By Jon Elliston | 16 Apr 2003

    Takin’ it to the “Streets”
    By Jon Elliston | 26 Mar 2003

    Corps Yanks Documents Off the Web
    They include information about unexploded weapons on former bases in Butner and around the country
    By Jon Elliston | 12 Mar 2003

    Blasts from the Past
    Aging bombs in Butner’s backyard – and newly leaked EPA documents – ignite concerns about unexploded ordnance.
    By Jon Elliston | 26 Feb 2003

    The state’s sterilizations
    By Jon Elliston | 18 Dec 2002

    The Anti-Warriors
    In a year consumed by war, Triangle peace activists helped keep debate and dissent alive.
    By Jon Elliston | 27 Nov 2002

    Earning his stripes
    As he positions himself for a run for the White House, Sen. John Edwards is getting his military tickets punched. But he says that’s not behind his support for a war in Iraq.
    By Jon Elliston | 6 Nov 2002

    Bucks for Bombsites?
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Oct 2002

    Back from the brink
    By Jon Elliston | 16 Oct 2002

    Debating Occupation
    A visit by an Israeli “refusenik”–a military officer who has sworn off service in Palestinian territories—will highlight both unity and divisions in the Triangle’s Jewish community.
    By Jon Elliston | 2 Oct 2002

    Conscientious Objections
    By Jon Elliston | 2 Oct 2002

    Dial to the Left
    By Jon Elliston | 25 Sep 2002

    Helms’ World
    The Jesse Helms Center, a nonprofit museum and conference center in Wingate that pays tribute to the senator, has published a new primer: And the World Came His Way: Jesse Helms’ Contributions to Freedom. The book makes no mention of the senator’s recent feints toward the mainstream, instead making the case that Helms hasn’t come around-he’s been unabashedly leading a conservative crusade all along.
    By Jon Elliston | 18 Sep 2002

    Dueling Rebs
    As the smoke clears from the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ latest round of infighting, leaders of the group’s North Carolina Division—including a state government archivist linked to Holocaust revisionistm and other outposts of the ultra-right—are retreating from public debate.
    By Jon Elliston | 21 Aug 2002

    A Political Scientist
    “The Einstein File” shows why the FBI targeted the world’s most renowned physicist.
    By Jon Elliston | 3 Jul 2002

    Bomb School
    After 41 years of explosive training at a secret base in eastern North Carolina, the CIA’s paramilitary wing is back on the front lines. For the base’s neighbors in nearby Hertford, the echo of bombs is business as usual–and nobody’s business.
    By Jon Elliston | 5 Jun 2002

    The Truth About Harvey Point
    By Jon Elliston | 5 Jun 2002

    Nowhere to Hide
    James Bamford’s new book, Body of Secrets, reveals how the nation’s most shadowy spy agency sometimes oversteps its bounds.
    By Jon Elliston | 8 May 2002

    Six-String Spook
    The secrets of George Shrub, the “world’s only singing CIA agent.”
    By Jon Elliston | 8 May 2002

    Growing For It
    A local farming program is about to start granting degrees in environmentally friendly agriculture.
    By Jon Elliston | 13 Feb 2002

    Gone to Pot
    Will the incumbent Chatham County sheriff reveal what happened to 5,000 pounds of missing marijuana?
    By Jon Elliston | 6 Feb 2002

    Party trick
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Jan 2002

    Carrboro renters kiss their landlord goodbye and create a new model for homeownership.
    By Jon Elliston | 30 Jan 2002

    Kangaroo court
    By Jon Elliston | 23 Jan 2002

    Reversal of Fortune
    After scanning their Social Security records, Harris Teeter bags veteran employees and dodges questions from the press.
    By Jon Elliston | 23 Jan 2002

    Uncivil War
    Two North Carolinians are vying for a key leadership position in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national Civil War enthusiast organization that’s beginning to split over charges of cowardice, racism and the romanticized memory of the Old South.
    By Jon Elliston | 16 Jan 2002

    Crossing Over
    Can a progressive budget analyst make a difference in the governor’s office?
    By Jon Elliston | 26 Dec 2001 (

    Access Denied
    The federal government calls for the destruction of a public document.
    By Jon Elliston | 12 Dec 2001

    Fight for your rights … and party
    By Jon Elliston | 5 Dec 2001

    Torture 101
    By Jon Elliston | 28 Nov 2001

    Bearing Witness
    Powered by prayer and awareness, Gail Phares campaigns against dirty wars in Latin America.
    By Jon Elliston | 28 Nov 2001

    The Poster Police
    Why did Durham cops sic the Secret Service on a politically active teenager?
    By Jon Elliston | 21 Nov 2001 (

    Life in War’s Shadow
    UNC-Chapel Hill professor Catherine Lutz’s new book, “Homefront,” views Fayetteville as a microcosm of U.S. militarism.
    By Jon Elliston | 7 Nov 2001

    Spooky food
    By Jon Elliston | 31 Oct 2001

    America’s New Anti-War
    As the government launches combat operations, Triangle activists are pushing for peace.
    By Jon Elliston | 10 Oct 2001

    Beam me up, voters
    By Jon Elliston | 3 Oct 2001

    Aftershocks
    By Jon Elliston | 19 Sep 2001

    The Next Step
    Latinos, like Carrboro Board of Aldermen candidate John Herrera, are staking a claim in local politics.
    By Jon Elliston | 12 Sep 2001

    Profiled out
    By Jon Elliston | 29 Aug 2001

    Incoming
    Will North Carolina be home to expanded military training sites?
    By Jon Elliston | 15 Aug 2001

    A mother of history
    By Jon Elliston | 25 Jul 2001

    Quality of Justice
    A new Durham-based organization, Fair Trial Initiative, prepares young lawyers to defend against death sentences.
    By Jon Elliston | 18 Jul 2001

    The Trial of Henry Kissinger
    by Christopher Hitchens, (Verso, 159 pp., $22)
    By Jon Elliston | 4 Jul 2001

    Brett Ingram
    Brett Ingram’s award-winning documentaries empathetically chronicle the stories of overlooked people.
    By Jon Elliston | 27 Jun 2001

    A Radical on the Road?
    The latest North Carolina notable to turn up in the FBI files is veteran CBS reporter Charles Kuralt.
    By Jon Elliston | 13 Jun 2001

    Deadly Alliance
    newly released files shed light on Jesse Helms’ pivotal role in backing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
    By Jon Elliston | 23 May 2001

    Busting Trust?
    Latino advocates want assurances that local police won’t become an arm of the INS.
    By Jon Elliston | 2 May 2001

    First Person
    Revisiting the Bay of Pigs invasion with Fidel Castro and his former enemies.
    By Jon Elliston | 25 Apr 2001

    A Short Success
    Two former locals take their short film to the Oscars.
    By Jon Elliston | 14 Mar 2001

    Spy Like Us?
    Felix Bloch, one of the great unsolved mysteries of Cold War espionage, is back in the headlines–and still driving a bus in Chapel Hill.
    By Jon Elliston | 7 Mar 2001

    A Family Affair
    It ain’t Sundance, but the Hi Mom! Film Festival gives local short-filmmakers a chance to strut their stuff.
    By Jon Elliston | 28 Feb 2001

    Bob Sheldon’s Legacy
    The slain founder of Internationalist Books, now 10 years gone, continues to inspire as the store marks its 20th anniversary.
    By Jon Elliston | 21 Feb 2001

    Unconventional Warrior
    In a new book, army vet and Raleigh resident Stan Goff tells why he broke ranks during the invasion of Haiti.
    By Jon Elliston | 14 Feb 2001

    Gasoline on a fire
    By Jon Elliston | 31 Jan 2001

    Nervous Neighbors
    In Chapel Hill, university expansion and commercial development could change the landscapes of historic communities.
    By Jon Elliston | 17 Jan 2001

    Search and destroy
    By Jon Elliston | 27 Dec 2000

    Festivus Miracles
    Christmas rituals got you in a rut? Every family has its alternatives, some better, some worse than the originals.
    By Jon Elliston | 20 Dec 2000

    By Jon Elliston | 20 Dec 2000

    Big Hole, Deep Secret
    Beneath the Chatham County countryside lies AT&T’s covert military site, the most intriguing local landmark you’re not allowed to visit
    By Jon Elliston | 13 Dec 2000

    White vs. Right
    By Jon Elliston | 29 Nov 2000

    CIA’s Man on Campus
    Straddling the divide between espionage and academia, an intelligence officer spends a semester in the UNC-Chapel Hill Economics Department.
    By Jon Elliston | 29 Nov 2000

    Where Credit is Due
    John Herrera set out to provide local Latinos with affordable banking services. In the process, he helped change our perceptions of the Triangle’s fastest growing minority group.
    By Jon Elliston | 22 Nov 2000

    Rabble-Rousers
    Chapel Hill’s Internationalist Books and Community Center, the little leftist store that could, fuels the anti-globalization movement from Franklin Street
    By Jon Elliston | 22 Nov 2000

    Counted out
    By Jon Elliston | 15 Nov 2000

    Radical cheers
    By Jon Elliston | 18 Oct 2000

    Eddie Hatcher’s Last Stand?
    The rebel of Robeson County prepares for a life-or-death court battle.
    By Jon Elliston | 11 Oct 2000

    Foreign students under scrutiny
    Foreign students, the federal government and American schools in the middle.
    By Jon Elliston | 20 Sep 2000

    The methadone mile
    By Jon Elliston | 13 Sep 2000

    Ballot Blues
    Will North Carolina voters have the Nader option?
    By Jon Elliston | 23 Aug 2000

    Doing Their Thing
    Young North Carolina protesters take their message to Philadelphia.
    By Jon Elliston | 9 Aug 2000

    Target Audience
    Did Fort Bragg’s propaganda troops infiltrate domestic news organizations?
    By Jon Elliston | 5 Jul 2000

    NOW, JON, WHAT HAVE YOU WRITTEN SINCE YOU MOVED ON UP TO THE MT EXPRESS? WHAT KINDS OF STORIES HAVE YOU ENCOURAGED AND WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOURAGED, OH GATEKEEPER, OH ARBITER OF LOCAL PUBLIC OPINION?

    If the above list of work that you did at The Independent doesn’t equal your “Hey Day,” but was rather just a period of “wood-shedding” and the best is yet to come, then I am very excited, indeed. Please let me know when you decide to do another investigative report on a remotely political matter and I will be sure to “weigh in” with my criticism & or praise. The above piece to which this post is a response, as I am sure you well know, is not really the kind of “journalism” I am hoping to see in the future.

    The Xpress is good on music, it is good on film, its good on food … in short, it is good on fun … what it lacks, in a word, is balls. Without some balls it will never be taken seriously as journalism again. This is why in poll after poll Mainstream Media keeps taking a hit in the public eye: they have no balls, they never go for it and therefore people have lost faith. Mainstream viewers have lost interest because they all believe that either the MSMedia are out-and-out on the take and purely spinning for corporate interests … or the people believe that MSM are just too hamstrung by corporate sponsorship and so cannot do a hard news piece that confronts any aspect of those interests as it would threaten revenue, and so they just play it safe … and so the people, who are not stupid, especially in our odd little town up here in the hills, stop relying on them, quit tuning in and then circulation drops and then ad revenue drops and then the rag drops and folks that thought they were doing journalism have to go look for a job in a world that increasingly does not pay for real journalism anymore. And that is where we are headed today.

    2010 New Years resolution suggestion for the Mt. Xpress: Grow some balls & lets make the next decade count. If the world is going to hell in a hand basket and Obama and the Corporate Dems, like our own Heath Shuler, are falling down on the job, lets talk about it, let’s go out with a fight. Leave Tiger Woods & his Company to Edgy Mama’s dogs in 2010, por favor…

    (I appreciated Eamon’s points above about “trends.” The fundamentals of good journalism have not changed since the greeks defined rhetoric long long ago. The only thing that has changed is the delivery mechanism. Getting at the truth about a matter is the same as it ever was: a difficult and most worthy pursuit.)

  27. Jeff Fobes

    I’ve never said we won’t need professional journalists. I’m sorry if I conveyed that impression. The need for journalists will remain, but the roles are almost certain to change because the dynamics of information flows have changed.

    Ken, your irritation at sock puppets and Xpress’ failure to weed them out is understandable. Xpress needs to figure that problem out, after which it will need to learn how to respond to many more challenges that go hand in hand with crowd-sourcing.

    Somehow I’ve failed to communicate where I’m coming from. For starters: I agree that there are perils in letting “everyone” join in the process of reporting, but I don’t fear an insurgence of mainstream Americans into pro/am journalism. Rather, I believe that activists (of whatever political persuasion) will join in, because they have a strong sense of community and a yearning to participate; they bring their passion (for their cause, of course).

    I’m putting my bets with the activists because they offer a better option than what we’ve been treated to for the past century, wherein the captains of industry have masterminded mass marketing and built an global media network to play Pied Piper news and entertainment, in order to hypnotize America’s all-to-gullible millions.

    I find it distasteful to get my news from corporate America. And at least at the local level, I’m of the opinion that activists (impassioned citizens) can report better than megamedia, who treat the locals the same way that colonial empire-builders treated Third World natives.

    I’m no fool when it comes to realizing the chaos that can ensue when the teacher leaves the classroom (i.e., the corporations declare newspapering not profitable enough to pursue). But at the local level, Xpress has professional journalists who can collaborate with Asheville’s passionate core of activists. And the Internet just made our job about a million times easier and more exciting.

    I’m not proposing that Mountain Xpress cut its editorial staff and turn the news over to whomever, to say whatever. But I am hoping that our editorial staff will find ways of collaborating with Asheville’s most active, thoughtful residents: its bloggers, artists, activists and techno-geeks — in order to show what inspired local news gathering and management can be in a networked society.

    We’ll still need “teachers” who can stay in the “classroom”; but let’s call on a mix of professionals and amateur residents, and remind them their job is to show how democracy can work at the local level.

  28. As far as sock-puppets go, isn’t their a way to trace an email address to a citizen? Can’t you have a “gatekeeping” filter set up that requires a verified local address and phone number? Require that your full name be registered on your little web page that you are assigned when you log on to the Xpress. I mean what journalist gets to hand reports in and not sign their name to them? If this is the new journalism lets not throw accountability out with the bath water. So you have an opinion or some facts to report? Fine, put your full name where your mouth is. No pen names, no aliases, your name … if you take free speech seriously, take responsibility for your words an action equally seriously.

  29. The Xpress is good on music, it is good on film, its good on food … in short, it is good on fun … what it lacks, in a word, is balls. Without some balls it will never be taken seriously as journalism again. This is why in poll after poll Mainstream Media keeps taking a hit in the public eye: they have no balls, they never go for it and therefore people have lost faith. Mainstream viewers have lost interest because they all believe that either the MSMedia are out-and-out on the take and purely spinning for corporate interests … or the people believe that MSM are just too hamstrung by corporate sponsorship and so cannot do a hard news piece that confronts any aspect of those interests as it would threaten revenue, and so they just play it safe … and so the people, who are not stupid, especially in our odd little town up here in the hills, stop relying on them, quit tuning in and then circulation drops and then ad revenue drops and then the rag drops and folks that thought they were doing journalism have to go look for a job in a world that increasingly does not pay for real journalism anymore. And that is where we are headed today.

    2010 New Years resolution suggestion for the Mt. Xpress: Grow some balls & lets make the next decade count. If the world is going to hell in a hand basket and Obama and the Corporate Dems, like our own Heath Shuler, are falling down on the job, lets talk about it, let’s go out with a fight. Leave Tiger Woods & his Company to Edgy Mama’s dogs in 2010, por favor…

    (I appreciated Eamon’s points above about “trends.” The fundamentals of good journalism have not changed since the greeks defined rhetoric long long ago. The only thing that has changed is the delivery mechanism. Getting at the truth about a matter is the same as it ever was: a difficult and most worthy pursuit.)

  30. Jon Elliston

    Thanks to all who have steered this conversation back on topic, and for putting so much time into your responses.

    Obviously there are a lot of valid questions and assertions to respond to, from the discussion above. I’ll try to hit as many as I can tonight, and some more tomorrow.

    I’ll start with Eamon’s points, some of which I agree with. For the time being, I’ll focus on where we might differ a little, with his comments in quotes:

    “I share the concern that a rush to celebrate their potential may be overly simplistic and overly optimistic. Lets face it: we’ve had many of these devices for awhile now and it has not led to a tidal wave of amazing citizen investigative reports flooding the net.”

    I share the concern too — and we should be mighty mindful of it as we evolve a new model. And you’re right, there’s not been a tidal wave; but there has a been a growing swell of news generated by citizens who care to report it. There have also been some pretty impressive cases where crowd-sourced reviews and analysis from large releases of government documents have led to important stories.

    I think we’ll see the swell advance most in networked localities like our own. A recent and notable example: Near as I could tell, the single best place to figure out what was happening in neighborhoods around WNC during the recent snowstorm was a Twitter feed on our home page that was stocked with hundreds of dispatches from people around the area who were reporting what was actually going on around them. It was far from comprehensive or perfect, but it was arguably the most useful use of the technology, our resources, and the groundswell of citizen-reported news that has yet to happen through Xpress.

    “And before you say “Twittering Iran street protests,” let me preempt that by saying that the reason anyone even stopped to think or care about Twittering Iranian protesters is because there was a concerted effort in the mainstream corporate media (imagine that) to direct the American public’s eyes to those feeds.”

    That certainly wasn’t true for me, or for many people I know who don’t consume much mainstream media. The way I learned about it, and the way most people who I talked to about it learned it, was via Twitter reports untainted by any mainstream-media emphasis on the phenomenon. Maybe I’m a big exception here, but I wonder if you are overestimating how much attention to the Iran Twitter effect was generated from the top down, when I got it from the bottom up.

    ““We’re all journalists now” sounds nice but there is a whiff of forfeiture and relativism in this sentiment that is a just a little bit disturbing. It lets you off the hook with an almost pass-the-buck editorial stance.”

    I think you’re right to raise a red flag about that, but as Jeff mentioned in a recent comment above, we’re hardly going to forfeit our role as investigators. (And let’s not forget what I wrote in the commentary: “There are key parts of our profession that we’ll hang onto till someone pries the keyboards from our aching hands: We’ll still gather and disseminate crucial news on our own. We’ll still sit through the lengthy local-government meetings that aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time. We’ll still do the kind of long-term, in-depth investigations that don’t (or don’t yet) seem to lend themselves to crowdsourcing or citizen journalism.”)

    In fact, if we do this right, we’ll have more time to investigate and the benefit of more information gleaned from collaborators to enrich our investigations. That’s part of the plan too (wish I’d have mentioned it!).

    “The idea that everyone’s ideas now have equal potential to get sufficient exposure to make an impact on public affairs is not too different than placing one’s faith in a lottery system. It’s a pretty unlikely bet if not altogether futile. And is that really the intellectual bedrock on which we want to rebuild the fourth estate and by extension, the public trust? Let’s just keep our fingers crossed, eh?”

    No, let’s not hope for luck. Let’s get to work on figuring out what works about pro-am journalism collaborations and what doesn’t, while pressing on with our own professional reporting. And make sure we come out with something better at the end of the process. Which I think we’ll do, but it will obviously take lots of exploration and discussion. Both of which we’re up for, along with the working hard on it part.

  31. I am am curious as to how the amateur activists/impassioned citizens will get integrated with the professional journalists at the Xpress? How will this effect the quality of our local journalism for the better? Sure we might get more photos to sift through of arson fires and snow storms and car wrecks on 26 and the like … but is that really what is important? I mean how is this new democratization going to effect real journalism?

    Isn’t this just a reframe of the age old tool of the trade we once called “following up on a lead” … or “leg work” … i am having a hard time getting the difference here …

    Why does “twitter” even need to enter into this discussion? What percent of the nation actually Twitters? Last I read it was less than five percent … is twittering going to replace traditional journalism? Really? Can twittering do much more than scratch a surface? Who is going to delve? I am never gonna twitter. Does this mean I am going to remain further removed from the truth about a matter? If Twitter is another digital source for leads that lead to a real in depth story that I can read in The Express at the Coffee Shop, then I am all for it.

    As someone who has been engaged with the digital “revolution” since 1999 in the film and video world, I can tell you “democratization” has its share of drawbacks. Almost everybody can afford to buy a digital camera now and make a film and put it on the web, or take and post 1000 pictures for everybody else to sort through. Is that really a good thing? For stockholders in the digital camera business, yes. For people with a limited amount of time online, no. Maybe that is where the Xpress comes in … you guys can filter out all the crud and shine a light on what is information you deem important. But then you are back to the roll of gatekeeper … and judging by the looks of much, though not all of the “journalism” I see on YouTube and Facebook, maybe gatekeeping is not such a bad thing?

  32. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mtn. Exp. for the in-depth articles they’ve done in the past. No where else in Asheville is there such coverage. My own personal experience in an ongoing controversy was a wake up call for the need for in depth focusing on local issues. Who knows what will seep out of the walls when folks have an opportunity to write about things they’re seeing happen in the collective worlds.

    I disagree with DCJ…I think this publication does have some balls. I’ll be looking forward to what contributions citizen journalist have to offer…who knows I may even muster up some contributions myself.

    I did finally “get” what twittering has to offer during the recent power outage. So MtnExp is good for techno education.

  33. I did not mean to imply that I don’t think the Xpress has ever done quality in-depth reporting in its past, Davyne. I think it has. I can see how you might get that impression from what I have written here. I sometimes get carried away with figures of speech in my efforts, for better or worse. Apologies to the Xpress staff and all else who surf here.

    When I say “balls” I think what I mean is to go after stories that might not be so safe politically … investigating someone or some organization that actually shapes our community politically and economically … using the pen to speak truth about power by analyzing the issues at hand and exposing lapses in integrity and maybe even out-and-out corruption. Heath Shuler might be a good place to start. What is the difference between a progressive democrat and a blue dog democrat? Who do people think Heath really is? Who do they think he represents? What do people think of his earmarking 900,000 for red wolves and only 200,000 for public transportation? What about his accepting of 130,000 from health insurance companies as “campaign finances”?

    I guess I am just a critical person by nature. Not sure that is always a good thing, but there it is. If I was not critical, then I would not care about the Xpress being the best it can be. There is a place for media criticism locally just as much as there is nationally and internationally. And I am just one of many who hope to see the Xpress get its investigative reporting back on par with its arts and entertainment coverage.

    A friend of mine commented tonight that maybe I should read the Independent instead of the Xpress. Well, I might do that, save for two things: 1) the Independent went way down hill in 2005 after Eliston left, and 2) the Independent does not aim to specifically cover the issues of Asheville/WNC.

  34. Ken Hanke

    Ken, your irritation at sock puppets and Xpress’ failure to weed them out is understandable. Xpress needs to figure that problem out, after which it will need to learn how to respond to many more challenges that go hand in hand with crowd-sourcing

    It’s not even irritation — by this point I’m used to the many faces of Cullen — it’s what it’s potentially symptomatic of. These comments aren’t coming from a registered user, so that means that somebody had to approve them for them to appear online. Theoretically, that means that somebody read them. That anyone with a working knowledge of a certain party’s m.o. — which should mean anyone who actually reads the comments with regularity — could actually read these posts and not spot the ringers is worrisome in the broader scheme. If we can’t weed this out, how on earth do we expect to separate the tweet from the twat?

    Rather, I believe that activists (of whatever political persuasion) will join in, because they have a strong sense of community and a yearning to participate; they bring their passion (for their cause, of course).

    Be very, very wary here. Activists — of whatever persuasion — come equipped with an agenda that they’re promoting and they will skew things toward that agenda. I can already think of three instances where activist-minded people — two right-wing and one leftist — have been put forth with little or no critical examination of what they were saying/doing.

    Of course, it’s an established fact that I am very anti-twitter. I think it’s largely an abomination that threatens to dumb humanity down to nothingness 140 characters at a time. In many respects it’s soundbite journalism taken to new lows. I concede that it was interesting — even useful — during the snowstorm, but even then what actual value is derived from “70 closed at Beverly Road” without being told from Beverly Road to where or in what direction?

    And remember that corporate America has already gone with this “particpatory” notion so far as opinion is concerned. CNN actively courts viewers to text message what they feel about this or that burning question. Personally, I don’t care what “Buffy from Sault St. Marie” thinks about Tiger Woods, but it’s being incorporated into what is currently passing for news.

  35. Eamon Martin

    Thanks for fleshing out your thoughts a bit more here Jeff and Jon. I appreciate the clarifications.

    I admit that I overlooked the pledge of Xpress’s ongoing commitment to true reporting and investigative journalism in Jon’s essay that he references.

    That’s probably because for me that qualifier was overshadowed by the eye-popping stridency of overall theme which seemed to concede to “reinvention” and “decentralization”in terms of an “overall approach that [is] grounded in citizen journalism.” There is also a New Year’s manifesto-esque quality at play in the verbiage of “not clinging to outmoded approach that delivers news top-down, strictly from us to you.” This clearly suggests (as does this announcement’s over-all thrust) of a de-emphasis of Xpress’s role in offering real reporting.

    Please forgive any of my reactionary alarmism. I simply share Ken Hanke’s ideas about the dumbing downside of Tweeting, as well as the dangers of supplanting accountability with hearsay. I tried to illustrate (or allude to) this with the anecdote about Jeff’s reTweet of Tim Peck’s haughty and flagrantly false statement about my organization but this hasn’t been directly addressed.

  36. Jon Elliston

    Some preliminary responses to David are below. David, I’ll mark your comments with quotation marks:

    “Will the once and future journalist (who is now just a year shy of forty-I still have your birthday present-BTW) please rise, already?
    ….
    NOW, JON, WHAT HAVE YOU WRITTEN SINCE YOU MOVED ON UP TO THE MT EXPRESS?”

    I’m looking forward to the present, thank you.

    What have I written at Xpress? You could Google my name and “mountain xpress” and find out most of what you’re asking about.

    And it seems to me that this is taking the thread off-topic a bit. If you want to start a discussion about my work, perhaps a better place for it is in our Forums.

    But since you asked here, I’ll try to offer a response that might help answer your questions. What have I written at Xpress? I’m guessing a hundred or so articles, but I haven’t kept count. Here are some of the ones you might be most interested in:

    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2004/0218elliston.php
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2005/0420wargames.php
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2004/0609spy.php
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2004/0128pelley.php
    http://www.mountainx.com/ae/2005/0119vance.php
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2007/0922fbi.php/
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2007/1220vollersside.php/
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2008/112608askville
    http://www.mountainx.com/cruelsummer
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/070809apocalypse_wnc

    And I’d be remiss if I didn’t add some context to my answer: When I was working for the Independent in Durham — the work you cited earlier — I was staff writer, so my primary job was to write. As I’ve worked for the Xpress, I’ve mostly been an editor, and in recent years, managing editor. So my job here hasn’t involved a lot of writing compared to the time when I was a full-time writer. I have a lot of tasks to tend to that don’t involve me writing. Still, it’s been great to be able to write from time to time at Xpress, and I plan to keep doing so. But please understand that I’ve had a fulltime job outside most of my writing work.

    “WHAT KINDS OF STORIES HAVE YOU ENCOURAGED AND WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOURAGED, OH GATEKEEPER, OH ARBITER OF LOCAL PUBLIC OPINION?”

    Here’s a small sampling of the kind of stories I’ve encouraged and worked to make happen, along with our small but incredibly hard-working news staff, who don’t need much encouragement to crank out stories like these:

    http://www.mountainx.com/burtonst
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/CTS+of+Asheville
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/flag+arrests
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/Bobby+Medford
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/Parkside
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/ASKville
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/I-26
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/world_wide_wnc
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/Green+Scene
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/Buncombe+Commissioners
    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/Asheville+City+Council

    “The Xpress is good on music, it is good on film, its good on food … in short, it is good on fun …”

    Thank you for saying that.

    “What it lacks, in a word, is balls. Without some balls it will never be taken seriously as journalism again.”

    Here, I pretty much disagree with you, and I’ll defer to my links above as a response to your assertion. I’m not sure those stories showed “balls,” but they certainly showed brains and diligence.

  37. Jon Elliston

    David, a couple responses to your comments on the Tiger Woods story:

    “True, his billboards are all over our fair town and he has let his name and image be used for a multi-million dollar development here in WNC, but the Xpress decided to give further credence to our “National Inquirer” mass media by quoting a bunch of glib, talking-head “journalists” from the majors … ABC, CNN, MSNBC and so on.”

    Did you read the main story? Sounds like you just read the sidebar, which had a few quotes from national experts on personal brands and how they may or may not effect associated businesses, which, after all, was the topic of the story. The main story was filled almost entirely with local voices.

    “This story was not worthy of the cover. Who cares what the PR people at the Cliffs think is going to happen to their investment?”

    Maybe you don’t care, but a lot of people in the county do, particularly if they live near what is slated to be the biggest high-end development in Buncombe County history. Many people’s lives will be effected by whether or not that development thrives or nose-dives. Some people care about what will happen to the land there, some care about the potential economic impact, some care about the opportunity to do construction work there, some care about the tax money that would flow into the county coffers if the development succeeds.

    We didn’t take a tabloid approach to the story. We took a news approach to probe some very real questions that people are asking about the fate of a significant local development. The most important story ever? Nah. Cover-worthy? I think so.

  38. AvlResident

    To a non-journalist, this has been a fascinating conversation (or back-and-forth) among Mountain Express staff, other local journalists (apparently) and perhaps some “outsiders.” As one of the “outsiders,” who doesn’t know any of the other posters and reads newspapers to get the news (no social activist agenda), I’d just like to see Asheville have an intelligent, well-written, well-researched, thorough, hard-hitting newspaper, whether it is Mountain Express or Citizen-Times. At this point, neither are, to this reader, fulfilling that function. Citizen-Times probably has too many “corporate” constraints to overcome, even if its editors had higher standards than they apparently do. I hope Mountain Express can live up to its potential . . .but it seems to be getting distracted by “new media” fads and its own social/activist agenda. Don’t mind “new media” and social activism agenda, if the NEWS is there. Agree with an earlier comment: MX does a (pretty) good job of covering “fun.” (Could do better and could be more inclusive, beyond the “youth” scene; don’t you know there are lots and lots of literate, well-educated readers who spend money on your advertisers who are over . .36, 56, 66 . . .” Is Jerry Sternberg your only sop to the older set? To the conservative set?) But you are falling down on the investigative reporting thing on issues that really, really matter. The case in point: you allowed one of your staffers to blow open the mess at Mission Hospital on his own, independent blog, primarily by posting anonymous complaints/accusations and inside information that was, in fact, true. How could you have not jumped on that story and told Jason Sandford to write the definite investigative piece for MX, so the general reader who depends on Mission Hospitals (surely, almost everyone in the area) could know what was really going on and what was really at stake? Several times Forbes-Elliston “promised” that MX would be doing more coverage. Never happened. Given the record of public institutions (UNCA, A-B Tech) for botching their top level searches, how can you not be following the Mission search (or the A-B Tech search) more closely? At least Citizen-Times is doing “fluff” profiles on each of the A-B Tech candidates. But what reporter or paper will be checking on the candidates’ backgrounds, going to their home communities to talk to people who actually know and have worked with those peope? A-B Tech and Mission Hospital impact thousands here, and your front page “investigative” piece was on two young guys who got stopped and hassled for suspicion of drugs by police?
    Maybe you need a “citizens advisory board,” like the Citizen-Times has.

  39. Peacewarrior

    I hear you Ken and Jeff. I’m frustrated too by all these contrary posts with a rightwing bias. Why can’t we find a way to weed out these kinds of posts? I want the truth posted here. You can read the AC-T if you want the rightwing corporate slant. I want my Mountain Express to give the people’s point of view. Only.

    So let’s get these social puppets off here. There’ a gal who posts sarcastic stuff and is almost always off topic. She changes her puppet almost daily. One day she is pffff, the next pffftastic, the next teh pfff, now she is “pen*cap”. Can’t we get this off of here? Maybe Ken should do double duty as proof reader of posts coming in. He alone seems able to spot these kinds of posts.

    Then there are complainers like this avlresident, who says above: “I hope Mountain Express can live up to its potential . . .but it seems to be getting distracted by “new media” fads and its own social/activist agenda. Don’t mind “new media” and social activism agenda, if the NEWS is there. Agree with an earlier comment: MX does a (pretty) good job of covering “fun.” (Could do better and could be more inclusive, beyond the “youth” scene; don’t you know there are lots and lots of literate, well-educated readers who spend money on your advertisers who are over . .36, 56, 66 . . .” Is Jerry Sternberg your only sop to the older set? To the conservative set?) But you are falling down on the investigative reporting thing on issues that really, really matter. The case in point: you allowed one of your staffers to blow open the mess at Mission Hospital on his own.” Hey buddy, if you don’t like the way the Mountain Express reports the news, go watch that rightwing station Fox and leave us alone, eh?

    Jeff and Jon and staff, good job comrades. Keep up the good work! Us activists will finish changing Asheville, then the state, then the nation!

  40. Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Jon. Points taken. I do understand that as a managing editor you will not be afforded the time to do near the amount of writing that you did when you were based in Durham. Thank you for the links to some of your past stories in the Xpress, many of which I had not read before. My criticism has never been that you did not do good journalism when you had time to put pen to paper. (I still say your “hey day” as a journalist appears to have been in Durham. Of course I am well aware that you could prove me wrong. You were only there for 5 years … you could be here for another 25!)

    I believe my using that figure of speech regarding testosterone levels at the Xpress was a mistake. Rhetorically it put you on the defensive … is that really where I want to go? I don’t think so. I apologize. It was counter productive.

    As far as your Tiger Woods pieces went, I remain critical:

    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/121609teed_off_the_shifting_state_of_the_tiger_woods_brand

    This bit above seems to be all about the Tiger brand … it seems to just repeat what everybody has heard ad infinitum on the boob tube about the billionaire golfer’s not so bright corporate future. Where is the local angle here? It looks like you are just following corporate suit here, getting your leads from mainstream media’s decision to make another mountain of distraction out of a mole hill of infidelity and bad late night driving. Sure Tiger’s bad judgement will effect the incomes of all those who have hitched their star to his inflated worth as a brand. What else is new?

    Then the cover story:

    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/121609tiger_by_the_tail

    Sanford and Forbes do well enough in writing a story that doesn’t read like some lurid tabloid piece. It is pretty straight forward regarding the idea that the demise of the Tiger Brand may impact future economic development in Black Mountain. My point was never that the piece seemed like tabloid journalism in and of itself. My point was why all the hullabaloo about a fallen star and his real estate deal? Where is the angle about the ridiculousness of branding in the first place? Why can’t we be critical of the idea that many people are so clueless about themselves that they will roll with a “Be Like Mike” mentality, even down to buying a 3,000,000 dollar home in WNC? How sound is that? Is that really the future of economic development in WNC, celebrity golf courses and tearing up more of our environment so that rich folks from Florida can have 3.000.00 dollar second home with a stunning view of the few ridges that have not been clear cut while they whack a white ball all over some chemically enhanced fairway?

    What about running a cover story about the cons of over development? Why not do a piece on all the new tacky condos that have gone up over the past decade? How many of them stand empty today? How many more are slated to begin construction? Who is building these structures? How many local are employed in their construction? How many people that buy one are actually full time NC residents? Who will ultimately benefit in the end? Does the Xpress maintain the view that any development that gets approved by a select board of local “deciders” is a good thing, as long as it is going to create a few more new jobs?

    I totally understand that all the news that is fit to print cannot get onto the page every week at a small weekly regional paper such as the Xpress. The editor is the gate keeper. He or she decides what will be printed each week and what won’t be pursued. This is how public opinion is shaped/managed, wittingly, or not. What you choose to run each week will be what most people form an opinion about. What you choose to run each week will also gradually shift public opinion about the Xpress and its function. If you run a bunch of fluff, thoughtful locals will continue to lose faith. Does this cover story really inform me about a local matter that I don’t already know about? (Tiger had an affair. His brand is in crisis. This might adversely affect a certain real estate development scheme in Black Mountain. Where’s the beef?) When you participate in the national echo chamber of MSM, you affirm the very system that publisher Jeff Fobes claims to be fed up with in his post above.

    So what NEW information did I glean from your Woods article? “The Cliffs may, or may not, be adversely affected by Tiger’s wanderlust. It is too early to tell yet.”

  41. Jeff Fobes

    Eamon,
    I did respond a while back to criticism about my retweeting Tim Peck’s unsubstantiated claim that the Global Report refused to cover stories critical of global warming.

    That Forum thread, “Tim Peck lies on Twitter,” is at: http://www.mountainx.com/forums/viewthread/2641/

    One of my comments was: “The process behind my decision to retweet developed out of an earlier retweet by another MX staffer who ran through a tweet that argued the opposite direction from Peck’s. I felt a bit uncomfortable with that tweet because it was just one side of the story. When Peck’s opposing viewpoint came through, I felt the need to air an opposing view — and so was more open to providing a counter-allegation. Tatuaje did the journalistic work of ferreting out specific situations in which Global Report did cover the climate story from Peck’s side.”

    Later in the thread, I wrote: “In hindsight, I think I should have responded by asking him [Peck] for more info and some basis for his statement.”

    The Forum topic/thread is pretty interesting, with lots of viewpoints being aired.

  42. Eamon Martin

    Thanks, Jeff.

    I’m sorry if what I wrote seemed to imply that you had never accounted for that incident. It wasn’t my intent to belabor it and rake anyone over any coals. I brought that story up merely to give an example of how easily vulnerable social media forums are for making a mountain out of a molehill.

    And then suddenly there goes a significant chunk of our lives that was spent grappling with editorial accountability over something silly that should have never been an issue in the first place…

  43. Jeff Fobes

    The dialogue seems worth it to me, Eamon.

    Ironically, many of the comments in this thread seem to confirm my belief that citizens care about getting local news right, and they do contribute to the civic dialogue, many of them in insightful and thoughtful ways.

  44. Piffy!

    [b]Ironically, many of the comments in this thread seem to confirm my belief that citizens care about getting local news right, and they do contribute to the civic dialogue, many of them in insightful and thoughtful ways. [/b]

    Yes, “Peacewarrior’s” (Aka Hank Kennesaw/Kenneth Hinckey/Jerry Thornton/Hank Kennesaw) perspective is indeed helpful and genuine. I too truly hope all the foolish, trolling, unregistered users are banned forever so as to engender useful dialogue.

  45. Why not use your real names, Peacewarrior and Pen*Cap?

    That should just be required if you really care enough to participate here.

    Free speech should come with responsibility and accountability.

  46. Ken Hanke

    Yes, “Peacewarrior’s” (Aka Hank Kennesaw/Kenneth Hinckey/Jerry Thornton/Hank Kennesaw) perspective is indeed helpful and genuine.

    Careful now, I’m supposed to be the only person who can spot the ringers.

  47. Ken Hanke

    Why not use your real names, Peacewarrior and Pen*Cap?

    That should just be required if you really care enough to participate here.

    While I tend to agree, I’ve seen many cogent arguments against it being a requirement. Then again, how — unless the person is a public figure or is personally known to you — do you know that the “real name” is real? Pen Kap just pointed out four seemingly real names that almost certainly aren’t. Back when Peacewarrior was William P. Miller, you still didn’t have his real name — just something that looked like one.

  48. JWTJr

    The book/series “Enders Game” predicted anonymous blogging way before the the internet we know today. World leaders were elected based on their anonymous blogs. Dialog was sharp, but civil. I guess Orson Card couldn’t get everything right.

  49. Why not use your real names, Peacewarrior and Pen*Cap?

    That should just be required if you really care enough to participate here.

    Free speech should come with responsibility and accountability.

  50. Jon Elliston

    I’m glad we’re addressing the issue of anonymous comments on the site. This is something we’ve grappled with a lot. On the one hand, several regular commenters use aliases and stay respectful and direct in their comments. On the other, we’re continually grappling with sockpuppets and provocateurs.

    While it’s troubling how many of the sockpuppet comments get through, I think you’d all be heartened by how many we weed out before they appear. Granted, too many are still getting through.

    It begs the question of whether we should require people to give their real names, and then verify that they’re telling the truth. It could be done, and would likely make our dialogs here more civil. But it would also be somewhat time-consuming, and screen out some commenters who mean well but don’t want their name aired.

    We may establish new policies on this in the near future. In the meantime, we’ll try to be more vigilant about sockpuppets and snipers.

  51. I personally don’t want to hear from someone on a civic matter who cannot put their money where their mouth is, much less be verified as an actual citizen of our community. What does it mean to be a citizen anymore if you can shirk responsibility and accountability for ones words and actions.

    How about use the same method you use for a letter to editor? Verify each would be users legitimacy and intent to participate openly and honestly with a phone call?

    I wonder what all those online software petitions use to verify names and addresses with emails?

    It seems like if you had this process rolling in advance of participation, then you would have far less “gatekeeping” to do on the blogs and would probably actually gain some free time.

    People who value participating here would probably be far less likely to submit comments that will need to be rejected when they know that what they say is traceable to an actual citizen and that repeated violations would bar them from future participation.

    And for the 2% that require anonymity in order to participate I would say, “toughen up or stay up on your front porch.” You should not be out in public without some degree of ego strength.

  52. dhalgren999

    And for the 2% that require anonymity in order to participate I would say, “toughen up or stay up on your front porch.” You should not be out in public without some degree of ego strength.

    I have several clients who are knuckle dragging glenn beck devotees. Why would I want the opinions I express here alienating these and other potential clients??? And by the way, who among you would like namvet having your names and addresses?

  53. Piffy!

    [b]How about use the same method you use for a letter to editor? Verify each would be users legitimacy and intent to participate openly and honestly with a phone call?[/b]

    Are you new to the internet?

    [b]And for the 2% that require anonymity in order to participate I would say, “toughen up or stay up on your front porch.” You should not be out in public without some degree of ego strength.[/b]

    Although i feel you make a very valid point, let’s not forget that anonymity has a great tradition in journalism and a place in American history (Thomas Paine is a name that comes to mine immediately, but there are many, many more). I tend to think that the information presented is more important than a name connected to it, at times. the issue here is really about one particular person whose posts are always predictably similar (and yet under multiple, ever-changing names) comments inexplicably making it past said ‘gatekeepers’.

    I have found enormous value in information presented by ‘anonymous’ sources on these blogs in the past, and i think it is generally up to the reader to weed out the bits and discover what is true. Basically EVERYTHING gets posted, even cullens useless trolling under multiple, ever-changing pseudonymns (There have been more than 20 in the past 18 months, and 4 or 5 in this thread alone).

    -pff kapp.

  54. travelah

    David Conner Jones, why in ha’el are you so caught up in somebody’s real name? That strikes me as rather creepy and a stalking kind of thing. Maybe you are the kind of person somebody should not share their name with. How would anybody know? How would anybody know for certain that you really ARE David Conner Jones?? This is the internet. You could be some odd fellow named Cullen. Come to think of it, Cullen, what a twisted trick you are playing here!!!!

  55. Piffy!

    [b]Why not use your real names, Peacewarrior and Pen*Cap?

    That should just be required if you really care enough to participate here.

    Free speech should come with responsibility and accountability. [/b]

    Again, you’re new to the internets arent you? Some posters here enjoy anonymity because information the post may be outside of social norms, and weird, angry wackos coming after someone for what they wrote online are not without precedent. While i respect your opinion to disregard what i say because you don’t know me, I don;t agree that anonymity equals a lack of value.

    But as for Cullen “Peacewarrior”, he doesnt post under his real name because he has been banned too many times on this website, and said too many outrageous things about people’s personal lives to ever publish his name. He even had to cancel a seminar he was hosting once because his name became connected to things he posted here. You can read all about the history of his game on the Forums if you ever desire:

    http://www.mountainx.com/forums/viewthread/400/

  56. Piffy!

    [b]We may establish new policies on this in the near future. In the meantime, we’ll try to be more vigilant about sockpuppets and snipers. [/b]

    Right. Cullen has been posting the exact same, readily-recognizable tripe here for some two years or so. Why should we believe you now? Shall Ken and I dig through the stacks and show you the literally hundreds of examples of his posts and pen names?

  57. travelah

    More seriously … if Mountain X is going to walk its talk, it will need to start enforcing some standard of civil discourse. Incessantly calling people an assortment of names, constant vitriolic puking of the mind and fostering a sense of just about anything goes doesn’t cut it. If you think I am exaggerating, just browse through the replies to my posts. Now, if you want to keep it just the way it is, I can deal with the ‘tarded culture just fine. However, if you are looking for intelligently articulated discourse with diversity of opinion, you need to take another approach. … OK, now carry on with the almost predictable “…. liar” routine.

  58. Piffy!

    you may very well be on to something, lil t.

    Tell me David, if someone using a pen name says “2+2=4″ and someone with a ‘real’ name say “2=2+39″, how do you know which one is right?

    In my many years living in asheville, 90% of my friends know me by a nickname, so my ‘real’ name is quite pointless unless you are my mom. (mom?) Conversely, for all I know, “David Conner Jones” is completely manufactured, and if it is indeed real, you never know when some crazed loon will show up on your doorstep to settle a score.

    This is such an old, old argument, i tend to think you either just got on the internet last week, or lil t is right.

  59. Piffy!

    travelah, if you didnt lie so much in what you post here (If you think I am exaggerating, just browse through the his posts), people might not call you traveliar. And since you use terms like ‘raghead’, you really shouldn’t be one to talk (type).

  60. Ken Hanke

    you never know when some crazed loon will show up on your doorstep to settle a score.

    That makes those of us who have no real choice but to use our real names sound like we’re in the gravest of danger.

  61. David Connor Jones is my real name. I am not new to the internet. I have no interest in stalking anyone. Nor am I really concerned about some crazed loon showing up on my doorstep to settle a score, because I value speaking the truth as I see it, openly and candidly, far more than I value my life at this point. I believe that in speaking what you believe to be true at all times you open yourself to learning more about the truth that you did not know before you spoke.

    Most arguments are “old” and the best are seldom finished …
    (What makes for good journalism? Can bias be completely eliminated? What are the pros and cons of anonymity? These are not new questions …)

    I certainly believe that wisdom can be anonymous … and if your anonymity is really that precious to you, fine, keep it … but at least keep your pen name consistent. (Thomas Paine did not change his pen name every other day whenever he was feeling snide.)

    I think my deeper point is that in sticking with one name on this Xpress blog, be it your given name or a chosen pen name, this would at the very least cut down on the puerile guessing games that seem to waste so much time here. And they might make some people think a little more before they respond, knowing that whatever they say will be associated with their name in the future. Look at how many comments in this thread alone distract others into the sock puppet guessing game? Fobes and Eliston want to get the Xpress up to speed fostering encouraging dialogue online, but this constant sock-puppetry is not going to help that process. It is very annoying, as Hanke and others have pointed out.

    The Xpress could let you choose one username and you would be stuck with it. That way when you show up on a thread everybody can associate all your previous inane comments to your chosen moniker and disregard you right off the bat.

    And if you can write something half as interesting as Tom Paine wrote, then believe you me, I will be all ears, whatever name you choose to go by. So far nothing you have said from behind your “pen∩” has impressed me yet. (I guess I will recognize you when you show up on my doorstep by the pen stuck in your supple mouth?)

    ;-]

  62. Piffy!

    [b]David Connor Jones is my real name.[/b]

    Prove it.

    [b]Most arguments are “old” and the best are seldom finished …[/b]

    And yet you seem completely unfamiliar with this incredibly old argument.

    [b]I certainly believe that wisdom can be anonymous … and if your anonymity is really that precious to you, fine, keep it … but at least keep your pen name consistent. (Thomas Paine did not change his pen name every other day whenever he was feeling snide.)[/b]

    I never made any attempt to compare myself to Paine, but merely used him as one of many examples from American history and journalism.

    [b]I think my deeper point is that in sticking with one name on this Xpress blog, be it your given name or a chosen pen name, this would at the very least cut down on the puerile guessing games that seem to waste so much time here. And they might make some people think a little more before they respond, knowing that whatever they say will be associated with their name in the future. Look at how many comments in this thread alone distract others into the sock puppet guessing game? Fobes and Eliston want to get the Xpress up to speed fostering encouraging dialogue online, but this constant sock-puppetry is not going to help that process. It is very annoying, as Hanke and others have pointed out.[/b]

    now i really think you are cullen.

    [b]The Xpress could let you choose one username and you would be stuck with it. That way when you show up on a thread everybody can associate all your previous inane comments to your chosen moniker and disregard you right off the bat.[/b]

    Now i think you really are cullen, or very very new to the internet. Changing the name ever so minutely (Pfff, mr pff, pffftastic, pen kap, etc) on my account is not a ‘sock puppet’. a ‘sock puppet’ is what cullen does when he opens a new account or posts from a new name (as he has done 5 times at least in this thread alone, and who has not respnded to these allegations whatsoever).

    i have posted under this account for over a year. The only things that has ‘changed’ is slight modifications to my name, often based on the nicknames other users give me. I sincerely doubt there is any question for any user who cares to investigate even slightly who i ‘am’, and you just sound like cullen trying to stir up S#$t. Give it a rest. Or write a letter to the editor about how i am ruining your internet experience.

    [b]And if you can write something half as interesting as Tom Paine wrote, then believe you me, I will be all ears, whatever name you choose to go by. So far nothing you have said from behind your “pen?” has impressed me yet. [/b]

    Well, that is certainly your opinion.

    [b] (I guess I will recognize you when you show up on my doorstep by the pen stuck in your supple mouth?)[/b] When you can show me your avatar of you holding your picture id, i’ll believe you are who you say you are.

  63. Piffy!

    Again, for the record, “A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception within an online community. In its earliest usage, a sockpuppet was a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person,[1] like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet.”

    Have i done that here? Nope. Has cullen? Yep.

  64. AvlResident

    Elliston or Forbes said earlier, “Xpress is starting a local online ad network whose mission is to help raise revenue for local bloggers and websites.” Tell us more, please.

  65. Jeff Fobes

    Hi, AvlResident. Back on Nov. 1, we announced that Xpress is working on a local online ad network. That short notice was posted in Blogwire, at http://www.mountainx.com/blogwire/2009/bloggers_the_wnc_online_advertising_network_is_forming

    We’re still working on the project, and are much closer to making it operational.

    The overall concept is to create a network that helps both local merchants and local bloggers/websites.

    The goal is to share the revenue among all participating sites. The rationale is that by organizing locally, we can make a better, smarter network than one that’s put in place by a national or international operation — and that local initiative is Asheville’s middle name.

  66. Barry Summers

    i have posted under this account for over a year. The only things that has ‘changed’ is slight modifications to my name, often based on the nicknames other users give me. I sincerely doubt there is any question for any user who cares to investigate even slightly who i ‘am’

    I had no clue you were also pfff etc. until you said that just now. This changes how I look at your posts. And get real: it’s not realistic to expect me to ‘investigate’ who you are. You change your screen name for reasons I choose not to waste my time on figuring out.

    Jeff, Jon. What happened to the ideas you were floating a while ago? I still think the notion of a tiered posting system has possibilities. People who post under their real, verifiable names go in one column, and people who want to use aliases go in another. And we’re only talking about the peanut gallery here, right? I can’t imagine giving a platform for investigative news to an anonymous persona. You can say goodbye to any long-term credibility if you allow that.

    DCJ, I think there really is some value in allowing people to post under aliases (I choose not to do it, but oh well). But I also believe that if you choose to do so, readers will take that into account when weighing your comments. What do you think about a tiered set-up?

  67. David Connor Jones is my real name.

    Prove it.

    Take my word for it I can tell by his writing style that is DCJ, he is for sure not Cullen. The many faces of Cullen could not fake that level of debate, and DCJ likes Barbecue and Yankees.

    Pen Kap and Dave I think you guys have reached an agreement and I agree.

    My thinly veiled online name has been consistent since I started posting on MX and is my only online ID (well except for POTATO RAPER which I use as my Alter-ego on some of the saucier threads)

    Sorry Ref if “POTATO RAPER” is taboo on the MX

  68. Barry Summers

    Hey look! I posted under my full name! I even put a picture of my eye for retinal scan. C’mon, everybody! It’s fun out here in the daylight!

  69. Jeff Fobes

    Barry: We have indeed floated a number of ideas for tiered membership, in which certain membership categories contain only fully identified people. Webmaster Jason Shope is looking at what methods are in use on the web to establish identity (this is a thornier issue than one might suspect at first glance). We welcome any suggestions for “best practices” in this area.

    I continue to be a fan of the multiple-column idea, with anonymous posts sequestered to one side.

    Our inaction to-date is mostly attributable to being somewhat paralyzed by multi-tasking-induced attention deficit disorder. That and no clear consensus within Xpress on what is the wisest course of action.

    The goal we should be aiming at, though, is clear: Promote thoughtful debate/discussion. The word “thoughtful” implies respectful, empathetic, open to differing points of view.

    Personally, I’m often disturbed by the tone and substance of comments on our threads. But because Xpress has the role of establishing the rules of engagement and enforcing them, I think Xpress must first address its own actions before we blame individual commenters.

    Some people have argued persuasively that online is a wilder and woolier place than “letters to the editor,” and therefore we shouldn’t be so straight-laced in our standards. Online also allows for fast two-way exchanges, which makes it a different sort of dialogue than print. Add to that the fact that online is a work in progress, and the sum of all that has led us, I think, to be rather laissez-faire.

    We seem to be in the process of rethinking that.

  70. Barry Summers

    Every new frontier looks great with no rules & anything goes – until something bad happens. I suspect everyone will gradually realize that somewhat more restriction on online discussions etc. will be healthier in the long run.

    Just don’t censor my snark.

    multi-tasking-induced attention deficit disorder

    Thank the Gods there’s finally a name for my disorder. Is there a telethon planned? No? I’ll do it. I think I can get to it sometime next week – wait, no. That’s supposed to be all studio time. Nevermind, I’ll work it in.

    OK. What was I just doing? Oh, right. Red 6 goes on black 7…

  71. Piffy!

    [b]I had no clue you were also pfff etc. until you said that just now. This changes how I look at your posts. And get real: it’s not realistic to expect me to ‘investigate’ who you are. You change your screen name for reasons I choose not to waste my time on figuring out.[/b]

    Really? I had no idea. I will sign all my posts from now on with “Signed, -The PFKaP”.

    As far as ‘investigating”, all i meant was clicking on my name and seeing my account. All registered accounts here show how long a person has been registered, their post history, etc. click around a bit.

    Plus, i’ve kept that little “¤” in my name for a while, thinking it might have been a clue. We tend to play with our names over on the Forums side, and it ends up spilling over here. Sorry for that. i’ll try and keep that n mind in the future when making a joke or pointing out one of cullen’s multiple fake names.

    Regardless, i apologize for the confusion and want everyone to understand my intent was never to deceive. I would also like to clarify yet again, that changing names is not the same as a “sock-puppet”. What cullen is doing in this thread is sock-puppetteering.

    i actually got started posting on this forum in response to the idiotic Topix drivel posted by cullen, and would like nothing more than to never have to read his nonsense again. if it means i have to register with my government name and a retina scan, i would be happy to oblige.

    Signed,

    –The PFKaP

  72. Piffy!

    [b]And if you can write something half as interesting as Tom Paine wrote, then believe you me, I will be all ears, whatever name you choose to go by. So far nothing you have said from behind your “pen?” has impressed me yet. (I guess I will recognize you when you show up on my doorstep by the pen stuck in your supple mouth?)[/b]

    I didn’t pop up to say anything except to point out the “Hank Kennesaw” post was obvious trolling nonsense. i still really don’t get how these things ‘make it through the gates”. It seems so very, very obvious to so many of us. steve recognizes the guy on the Forums side in a few posts. Ken sees him. In this ‘community dialogue”, should we have to wade through this Topix-grade fare? I value these blog comments, because i think they offer a level of information the article likely never will. i get small insights into many of the facets of the debate, which the article never could do. And having to wade through some old drunk guys trolling is inane and destructive to the collective experience here. Asides and jokes seem fine. It’s the trolling with multiple names, from basically ONE guy for years now. Maybe pay ken to catch them? He seems quite adept at it.

    The PFKaP

  73. Ken Hanke

    It’s the trolling with multiple names, from basically ONE guy for years now.

    Actually, there are apparently two of them, though I forget the other one’s name — perhaps because he doesn’t seem as drawn to me.

    Maybe pay ken to catch them? He seems quite adept at it.

    No thanks. My multi-tasking attention deficit disorder is already stretched thin. (I am, by the way, increasingly suspicious that a certain party on the forums might be the newest incarnation of the Cullenator.)

  74. imho, all online comments should be connected to a verifiable ID.

    Like spam, anonymous comments waste an enormous amount of my time. This is not to say that the anonymous NEVER contribute, but they often hijack, detour or demean the discussions.

    How about registration with a credit card (or a check, or cash in person with ID for those who don’t use bank cards). Then a separate comment section for such registered users. Sure, let the anonymous comment, but don’t drag the rest of us through it.

    For genuine whistle blowing, wherein a person might invite serious harm by revealing uncomfortable truths? Straight to the editors who can assign reporters to investigate.

    Having done reporting that invoked death threats and volunteer work that has drawn threats of violence I am not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done myself. If we let fear prevent us from speaking our truth in our own names, we have given over our lives to bullies and terrorists.

  75. AvlResident

    Mr Bothwell says, “Like spam, anonymous comments waste an enormous amount of my time.”

    It doesn’t take much time to check the “delete” box and remove spam; reading spam . . or reading anonymous comments . . is not required. Skip over all posts without names.

    Mr. Bothwell, says, “Sure, let the anonymous comment, but don’t drag the rest of us through it.”

    Again, no one is required to read posts without names. Skip over them.

    Mr. Bothwell says, “For genuine whistle blowing, wherein a person might invite serious harm by revealing uncomfortable truths? Straight to the editors who can assign reporters to investigate.”

    If going to the editors will get a reporter assigned to investigate a serious issue, why did Ashvegas uncover the mess at Mission Hospital through a long series of anonymous comments on his Web site from people who feared reprisal? Why didn’t Mr. Sandford go “straight to the editors” and get assigned to investigate?

  76. JWTJr

    How about having all who comment register as lobbyists in Raleigh first? Or maybe something like an old timey pole test? Or even a tax once we get their cc number? The possibilities are limitless!

  77. Jeff Fobes

    Thanks, Cecil, for your thoughts. One of the ideas we’ve been discussing is the one you suggest: using registration through credit card or check or cash in person with ID.

    We’re also exploring to see if there are other ways that work. And trying to find out what experiences websites have had that require (reasonably) positive identification.

  78. travelah

    Why bother having Opinion, Blog and Forum discussions at all. Just stick to your letters and eliminate everything you think is a problem. Participation is key to success of these type of media and it seems you are entertaining every avenue possible to kill it. If you are content with just a small handful of “friends”, then get with it and just let everybody else know. I’m not going to do credit card verification and jump through hoops for this “privilege”. There are too many other interesting venues out there. I already left the Forums because of its small nearly incestuous clan mindset. By all means give the push and I can leave this as well. Eventually you will have a collective mind sink of pure homogenous thought.

  79. Stewart David

    Back in the early 1990’s, when I was active with Earth First!, we held a protest at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) office downtown. We had several people wearing “forest animal” costumes while holding signs, making the point that the proposed chip mill we were opposing would destroy the animals’ habitats. The police informed us that it is illegal (with certain exceptions, like Halloween) to wear costumes that hide one’s identity. I was able to convince the police that the intent of the law, which dates back to when the KKK was active, was to keep people from anonymously intimidating others with threats and hate speech. We reached a compromise. Everyone in a costume temporarily removed their mask and provided identification, so anonymity was no longer an issue. The compromise has held and we have continued to use costumes for both environmental and animal rights demos.

    I have mixed feelings about the law, but I mention it to show that there is legitimate concern to stop anonymous speech. It can get out of hand. I think if people on the forum were required to use their actual names, they’d be more likely to be respectful and polite and act with more integrity. It would be great to see the Mountain Xpress forum become a place where people exchange ideas, information, and resources instead of insults.

    Now, please, before anyone gets their undies in a bundle, I’m not equating every anonymous post, or even any anonymous post, with a KKK racist threat. But a few people do go over the line and get quite obnoxious at times. I just don’t buy the arguments for using monikers. I’m not insensitive to those who, say, are afraid they will lose business by using their own name. But that’s a decision they have made, and one they can reconsider at any time. I was never afraid to have clients know my opinions when I was working here in Asheville. If your clients on the other side of the political spectrum respect you, and if you present your arguments in a respectful way, you shouldn’t lose any work. And you just might change their minds! They need to hear divergent opinions from people they respect, rather than broadly classifying the “other side” as lunatics. Activism is about conveying your thoughts to opponents, not just preaching to the converted. It may do you good to come out of the closet.

    Like Cecil, I’ve had more than one death threat in response to my activism, and have been assaulted while peacefully protesting. I’d guess that Eamon has had more threats than the two of us combined. It all goes with the territory.

    One detriment of the modern world is that people seldom meet face-to-face, and often don’t even talk on the phone. Written forms of communication, be they letters, e-mails, or forums, often don’t lend themselves to meaningful discussions. People often talk at someone rather than talking to someone. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve attended where I walked in with the attitude of “why didn’t we do this via e-mail or conference call” and walked out thinking we never would have made the progress we did if we weren’t all in the same room. Forums, especially, are too often a place where people level personal attacks from the safety and anonymity offered by a fake name and computer keyboard. I’ve repeatedly told the people on the Mountain Xpress fourms who attack me to give me a call so that we can have a meaningful discussion, either by phone or over a cup of coffee. But it’s never happened. It leads me to the conclusion that “these people” don’t come to engage in discussion, they come to insult.

    Just my humble opinion for what it’s worth.

  80. I like Cecil’s idea of having a credit card verification. I also like the idea of having a fixed user name visible on your profile page so that you can know with a single click the history of the user you are dealing with. You can remain anonymous, but your identity online will be fixed. I disagree with traveller above that requiring some kind of citizen verification would discourage diverse input. I think it would weed out some the crap and probably encourage more genuine input. (This thread has been all but derailed by inane guessing games and sock puppet sleuthing.)

  81. Barry Summers

    This thread has been all but derailed by inane guessing games and sock puppet sleuthing.

    As it will be, when the people who have disrupted this and other venues in town try to maintain their ability to do so.

    One of the ideas we’ve been discussing is the one you suggest: using registration through credit card or check or cash in person with ID.

    Wait a minute, Jeff. Please tell me I’m misunderstanding this – you’re not talking about charging people for the right to participate online, are you? Because that’s the way this sounds. I wasn’t crazy about the credit card idea, but I thought it was simply as way to verify an ID. Now it really sounds like you’re considering a fee-based system. Is that the case? If this is a trial balloon, count me against it.

  82. what many online sites use is a nominal charge, for instance 25 cents, simply to put through a transaction that verifies the card.

  83. Barry Summers

    Just to be fair, I see it was Cecil who first appeared to suggest a fee-based system. Is there some part of this discussion I have missed, or has yet to show up on this particular thread, involving generating revenue from the website?

    Because it seems to me that would seriously skew any discussion on journalism, free-speech, access to a public forum, etc.

  84. Barry Summers

    what many online sites use is a nominal charge, for instance 25 cents, simply to put through a transaction that verifies the card.

    So the ‘check or cash in person with ID’ that you refer to is simply the same nominal charge that credit card users would be charged? I’m still not thrilled with any fee-based system, especially if it either requires turning over your credit card info, or going all the way down to the MtnX office & paying a quarter just for the right to post online. That whole thing seems a little crazy. Is there really no simpler way to verify ID’s?

  85. Jeff Fobes

    So, you’re beginning to see that this isn’t as easy as it might appear at first glance. And why we’re still reconnoitering.

    For the moment, let’s wish all the sock puppets, trolls and flamers a very happy new year, and enough wisdom in 2010 to help us figure out how to coexist and all of us learn and grow.

  86. “For the moment, let’s wish all the sock puppets, trolls and flamers a very happy new year, and enough wisdom in 2010 to help us figure out how to coexist and all of us learn and grow. ”

    Fact is, some people will prefer to remain beligerantly entrenched in their idee’ fixe…progress, tolerance and manners be damned.

  87. Piffy!

    [b]It doesn’t take much time to check the “delete” box and remove spam; reading spam . . or reading anonymous comments . . is not required. Skip over all posts without names. [/b]

    Yes, but the potential information is still there, like when an anonymous person posts something potentially libel, as has been happening with Mr Bothwell, the need to counter it with actual facts becomes necessary.

    As an anonymous poster, let me say I would LOVE to see the Blogs be based on verified names. The small amount of information that might be marginalized is worth sacrificing to not have to read people’s outright lies. Leave all that anonymous nonsense for the Forums side, where we play fast and loose with reality.

  88. Piffy!

    [b]I’m not going to do credit card verification and jump through hoops for this “privilege”. There are too many other interesting venues out there. I already left the Forums because of its small nearly incestuous clan mindset. By all means give the push and I can leave this as well. Eventually you will have a collective mind sink of pure homogenous thought. [/b]

    The notion that requiring people to register would marginalize folks like you, who post easily disproved lies repeatedly is a freaking joke. i would love to see you leave here, so i dont have to read any more of your drivel-ha.

    You “left” the Forums because you got pwned one too many times, and knew you couldn’t criticize Obama for the same things you praised Bush for.

  89. Piffy!

    [b]Just to be fair, I see it was Cecil who first appeared to suggest a fee-based system. Is there some part of this discussion I have missed, or has yet to show up on this particular thread, involving generating revenue from the website?

    Because it seems to me that would seriously skew any discussion on journalism, free-speech, access to a public forum, etc. [/b]

    I would be more than willing to pay to participate here. The management and maintenance of this site costs money. We use it for information, soap-boxing, and entertainment. why shouldn’t we have to pay? I strongly suspect the Forums side may move to this model very, very soon, and i will be the first with my wallet out. this is a great regional news site, and we should support it.

  90. travelah

    The notion that requiring people to register would marginalize folks like you, who post easily disproved lies repeatedly is a freaking joke. i would love to see you leave here, so i dont have to read any more of your drivel-ha.

    You “left” the Forums because you got pwned one too many times, and knew you couldn’t criticize Obama for the same things you praised Bush for

    Why don’t you make the effort to document these alleged lies? As for leaving the forum, I left for the reasons stated. Of course you can puke your nonsense all over the opinion page to your hearts delight.

  91. travelah

    Follow pfffst lead and MX ends up being a mouthpiece for the pfft and entop brothers in arms show …. have at it.

  92. nomdeplumer

    LOOK HERE , you silly people. There is nothing wrong with screen names. There are many good reasons to conceal your identity. And there is nothing wrong with dissent. I personally despise travelah and all he represents, but I will defend his right to speak. What you people are talking about is censorship, plain and simple. You should be ashamed of yourselves. As for the idea that everyone can be a journalist,,, pure lunacy. You can go twitter twatter all you want, but it’s not news! What they are really discussing here is a cheapo content generator.

  93. Ken Hanke

    The problem with all of this is that it’s not as cut and dried as it’s made to seem. Generally speaking — except that I like calling people by their right name (at least their first names, I almost never call anyone by their last name) — there’s not that much intrinsic value in just knowing someone’s name. There are people on here whose real names I don’t know, who I find much less annoying, rude and disruptive than several people who post under their own name. Naming no names, but one of them — who routinely refuses to engage in conversation with anyone using a screen name — is one of the worst offenders. Some of my favorite posters in the movie sections use screen names. Except for the fact that there are some I wouldn’t mind knowing personally, it doesn’t really bother me.

    I can pretty much judge by the posts the sort of person I’m dealing with. I doubt seriously that I’d find Mystery Logger and Asheville Dweller any less obnoxious if I knew their names — and knowing their names would not rid us of them obviously since they haven’t been banned, yet I’ve never seen either one do anything but swoop in to say something negative.

  94. AvlResident

    I was really hoping Mr. Bothwell or the editors would respond to my previous question, since it is relevant to the topic of “citizen-journalism,” “anonymous comments” and how important issues get covered – or don’t get covered – by the media. So, I’ll repost:

    Mr. Bothwell says, “For genuine whistle blowing, wherein a person might invite serious harm by revealing uncomfortable truths? Straight to the editors who can assign reporters to investigate.”

    If going to the editors will get a reporter assigned to investigate a serious issue, why did Ashvegas uncover the mess at Mission Hospital through a long series of anonymous comments on his Web site from people who feared reprisal? Why didn’t Mr. Sandford go “straight to the editors” and get assigned to investigate?

  95. Barry Summers

    Problem is, ‘nondeplumer’, while in principle, there’s nothing wrong with screen names, in practice, this venue has been ruined for semi-civil discourse by a handful of trolls who simply don’t want that discourse to occur. Now the question is, do you fix that, or do you just let it go on to the point that nobody but trolls want to log on? Because that’s pretty much where it’s heading.

    Censorship? Simply requiring you to file your real name with your account & then not changing your screen name whenever it suits you, that constitutes censorship? And don’t chime in with Travelahs contention that this is an attempt to exclude political viewpoints – there are plenty of conservatives who post under their real names, and leftists who post under ‘nondeplumes’ who will be affected or not in the same ratio.

  96. nomdeplumer

    Mr. Summers, Your assumptions are erroneous. Civil discourse is overrated. I suggest you “man up” and get on with it. So what if you get your feelings hurt. Sometimes the “trolls” have the best ideas and arguments. Plus, there’s always the option of ignoring them.

  97. travelah

    I have not suggested this is an attempt to silence conservative voices. I am merely stating that the effect of what is being contemplated will produce the pfffst, entop and barry theater in the round show. 90% of what is posted here is pure tripe and rest is dismissed as the work of trolls by people without argument for the mess they have bought into.
    The environment has been brought to nothing by the same people who cannot let a post go by without referring to somebody as a sockpuppet or a liar or “rightwing extremist”. Mountain Express is merely reaping what it sowed in allowing this contstant ad hominem laced environment to continue as such.

  98. Piffy!

    It’s cute to watch travelah complain about ad hominem arguments. He’s liek the freaking king of them.

    From what i can tell, people only complain about screen names when they can’t argue the facts presented.

    I’m just sick of reading Cullen and Willard’s sock-puppet tripe. I don;t mind travelah, since he’s always good for a laugh. Like that link to that vehemently racist website on his blog.Good stuff.

    [b]Follow pfffst lead and MX ends up being a mouthpiece for the pfft and entop brothers in arms show …. have at it. [/b]

    Really, How so? By requiring people to be more invested in this?

  99. Barry Summers

    Travelah – How’s this for an ad hominem attack:

    You, sir, are someone who calls other people’s opinions “tripe”, “puke”, and “nonsense”.

  100. travelah

    You, sir, should learn what an ad hominem fallacy is before you try to use it on another. While you succeeded with teh use of it, your inference that I engage dit with those terms is incoorect. An opinion that amounts to puke is not an attack against the person. If you speak nonsense and are called for it, you have not been the victim of an ad hominem attack. On the otherhand, if you insist on referring to me as a sockpuppet or a liar, then you are doing what I have stated.

    In the end, I couldn’t give two cents for your opinion. It is not relevant to anything in my life.

  101. travelah

    again, I wish I had taken the time to edit and spell check my typing. That would be a useful tool to the MX cimmunity. … although .. whatever.

  102. el titere calcetín

    [b]In the end, I couldn’t give two cents for your opinion. It is not relevant to anything in my life.[/b]

    if you didnt care, you wouldn’t be responding, or even visiting this site.

    [b]Mountain Express is merely reaping what it sowed in allowing this contstant ad hominem laced environment to continue as such. [/b]

    From the guy who calls people “Tuckfards”, “ragtags”, “Ragheads”, and many, many many other names when he can’t offer evidence to uphold his spurious claims.

    Trav, you so curaazay!

  103. Barry Summers

    I’ll just point out here that the conversation was going great until the anonymous posters started throwing out words like ‘idiot’, ‘tripe’, ‘vitriolic puking of the mind’, etc. Who the hell wants to participate when it turns into this? I plead guilty to responding in kind when I’m attacked like this, but I won’t start it.

    I think you guys probably made the best possible case for changing things…

  104. Name Game

    “In the end, I couldn’t give two cents for your opinion. It is not relevant to anything in my life.”

    Travelah, you’ve offered nothing of value to this discussion board. Your posts read like an angry teenager’s half-ass attempt at a spelling assignment. What’s your point here?

    Perhaps by not using our real names, there is less bias, because we can’t make a judgement call based on prior information we’ve heard about the people. In a forum such as this, the discussion is more important than which Asheville citizens are present in this assembly to rag on.

    By saying this, I am not recommending we use fake names, nor am I saying there is something wrong with using your “real” name. I agree with Hanke about this. It is of little matter.

    What is unsettling for me in all this is Jon’s statement in the article (remember the article above that was discussed, before the issue of identity came up?) which reads, ”

    “Maybe not everyone wants to be a journalist, but we’re rapidly approaching an era when anyone can be a journalist of one sort or another. And as the impacts of these fundamental changes spread, we want to be able to say that Xpress helped pave the way for a new kind of journalism that’s richer, more diffuse, more responsive and more empowering than the way we used to do it.”

    It will be richer, alright. There will be colorful material, sure. But more unimportant, unoriginal and phony stories will also be contributed which the “gatekeepers” will have to weed through each week.

    Where does “truth” and “relevance” fit into all this?

    It sounds like a lot more work. Why not put a bar up on the Mountain Express homepage that says within “WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?”

    Travelah?

  105. I agree with Barry. I think any decent moderator should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff here. Half these comments should not have gotten through. What is the moderator’s prime directive at MX, allow anything that is not overtly violent or libelous? What kind of moderation is that?

    Why not enable the moderator to hit a “reject” button, which sends an email to the individual stating a simple reason for rejection:

    1) off-topic
    2) offensive

    You could also pen them a little note that they might be lost and link them back to the forums, where such comments are better appreciated by all the other lotus-eaters.

    I know that gives the moderator a lot of power, but doesn’t he or she have that power already? Why not use it and greatly enhance the merit of these article threads? You could have all the rejected comments enter a pool that Jeff or Jon could survey each week to insure the moderator is not getting to heavy handed. Hell you could even have a public forum that lists all the rejected comments of the week. I bet that would get a lot of traffic! Whose comments got rejected and why.

    I suspect the fear is that if enough frivolous comments by people who make a habit of lurking here their social life get rejected, then they will bail on lurking here, and so MX will loose a few “hits”/eyeballs for ads, which could effect revenue. I seriously doubt it will be a significant loss, as most annoying lurkers are few and far between and very vociferous to boot. We are talking about rejecting what, 5 or 10 repeat offenders? What is the disadvantage of that? None that I can see. It would be far better in the long run for building participation to simply bump these people’s comments until they get it figured out. I suspect if these threads were moderated in such a way to stay on topic and serious, more folks would contribute and you might actually get a real prolonged dialogue going. But as it stands the opportunity for a fruitful discourse is shattered by folks like Travelah and Pen∩ when they drag the thread into the mud, as Barry points out they have done here.

    Right now the MX article response/discourse is reduced to romper-room anything goes. I thought that was what the forums were for? I mean why does the idea of free speech have to mean anything goes? Can you imagine this crap at, say, the constitutional convention? Thomas Jefferson being interrupted by Pen⋒ every other statement TJ makes with some inane aside, pleading the first amendment before it had even been ratified?

    The Xpress is an institution, just like UNCA is an institution. UNCA doesn’t have to allow this type of gutter discourse to go on in a classroom discussion. An unruly student will get punted for the sake of the others participating and learning. As an institution YOU can instate your own rules or guidelines and then actually STAND BY THEM: simply 86 those comments that don’t abide by the rules. If some anonymous poster really wants to stay on the thread they should have to stay relatively on topic and stay relatively polite. (Relativity to be determined by an AWAKE ADULT moderator.) After enough rejected comments come back, the lurkers that want a new lease on their social life here will begin to figure out how to enter the discussion in a civil manner, or they will go find some other gutter to frolic in. It is a win-win situation, no? You don’t have to reject their membership, or their capacity to comment, just reject certain comments, and be firm about it. If they cannot behave like adults here where it matters, send them back to the forums, where it doesn’t. (Sorry if this reads like parenting 101.)

  106. A Proposal:

    1) One MX account per citizen, not one per email address. To set up an account you must be able to legally verify your identity … who you are and where you live. This doesn’t have to be shared on MX website profiles for the sake of having more timid users participate. But it will eliminate one individual from “falsifying” a dialogue by coming in from two or three accounts pretending to be different people and destroying the authenticity of the discussion at hand.

    2) One user name per account. It can be an “anonymous” pen name, or your initials, or your actual name. Set it in stone. And if you want to make it clear that those who choose to remain anonymous will have there comments pushed to a further margin – implementing the tiered model above mentioned- that might help those who really want to participate choose to be who they are… or at least give it a try.

    Addendum to 2) You could set it up so that you can change your user name to anything you want, at anytime, but only when your user name identifies your full legal name – like Cecil, Barry, Jon, Jeff, Davyne, Eamon, Ken and I are all doing here – then you are in tier one of the dialogue. If you want to remain in the anonymous “peanut gallery”, sniping from the side lines and thereby easily disregarded, then roll with your fake name and be the faker that you choose to be.

    3) Have the moderator exercise better discretion in their duty as a moderator: Nix off topic comments/personal attacks.

    Maturity problem solved. Authenticity problem solved. Let the real discussions roll. (Peanut gallery be at least damned to the sidelines. They can twitter meaninglessly amongst themselves in the outer dark of the far margin. Marginalize their marginal behavior.)

  107. Eamon Martin

    I agree with David. I lost interest in participating on this thread (which I think started to have the potential to be worthwhile) way back precisely because of the asinine contributions of the sock puppets who really only served to disrupt, undermine and sabotage any type of sophisticated, civil conversation.

  108. What We Talk About When We Talk about Citizen Jour

    Is Jon Ellison equating Citizen Journalism with the comments section that follows an article? Is Citizen Journalism a Twitter post? Totally unclear – and I’ve tried to wade through all the comments – as to what Citizen Journalism is? Is it edited? Is it fact checked?
    What are these comments supposed to be about? Comments about comments? Or comments about the new direction MX is moving in?

    One way to improve comments – of whatever nature – would be to limit the number of characters a writer can use. (Of course, limiting the “characters” who post here would satisfy others.)

    Please don’t lost sight of my question. What exactly is Citizen Journalism IN PRACTICE

  109. Actually, I say just nix the “tiered thread” idea altogether. That seems too complicated.

    One verified citizen = One verified account = One user name. Be it real or anonymous, choose your username and commit to it.

    Then authorize your moderator to reject personal attacks, guessing games and random off topic BS comments. Everything that gets posted has to be checked now anyways, right? Hopefully such comments will be reduced by the new 1 account/1 user name policy. (Let the forums be the “peanut gallery” from here on out.)

    “What We Talk About When We Talk about Citizen Jour” – if that is your real name – I think limiting characters would not solve any problem here whatsoever. The problem is not one of quantity, it is one of quality. Most of the asinine comments are pretty short in length.

  110. travelah

    I think MX is blowing hot air again. If they were serious about having a viable discussion community, they would police the socks that have popped up in in the past few days to attack their favorite villian.

  111. Barry Summers

    No one is attacking you, trav buddy. If we wanted to attack you, we’d call you a Calvanist.

  112. Ken Hanke

    their favorite villian.

    Is that you? You are far from my “favorite villain.” I almost never agree with you and have somewhere near zero in common with your worldview, but I don’t even dislike you, much less consider you a villain. At least you occasionally evidence a sense of humor, which is more than I can say for at least four people with verifiable real names.

    I have no problem with the whole idea of a verification process — except that I fear it will limit participation in some undesirable ways. For example, there are a number of people — regulars — who post on the movie columns, who aren’t even registered and who wait for their posts to be cleared. Will they register? Maybe, maybe not. And I certainly have no desire to lose, for example, the occasional visits from Ken Russell or his wife Lisi over this sort of thing.

    Again, the problem really comes down to moderation. Is it that hard to spot one of Cullen’s “true spirit of the southern man” and “how most people really feel” screeds? I’ve never found it so, though I have occasionally mistaken him for Willard and vice versa. Even so, it’s pretty easy to spot a ringer (does it matter which one it is?) — and in my experience of moderating a message board for over ten years now, they give up if you keep deleting their posts and banning them. I do realize that in the case of something like this where the threads are spread all over the place, the task may be relatively simple, but the size is an issue.

    Even registration is useless unless there’s some moderation. Look at Messrs. Mystery Logger and Asheville Dweller. They’re registered users, but has anyone ever seen them contribute anything on here apart from coming on to tell Asheville to get over itself? Will having them verify their real names change that? Or are they simply to be tolerated like some uncle with a drinking problem that everyone chooses to pretend isn’t there?

  113. Stewart David

    I don’t read the comments often because they so quickly stray off-topic into nasty personal attacks. Like Eamon, I thought this thread had some real potential at first, so I made an exception. As Barry noted, those not interested in real dialogue illuminated the need for change far better than anyone hoping for intelligent conversation could have done. David, Cecil, Ken and others have all made some great points/proposals. I personally think people should have to use their real names, and be verified, but see both sides of the issue. The important thing is to find a way to turn these threads into places for the exchange of opinions, ideas and information, not insults.

    As Jeff noted, the Xpress has been grappling with exactly how to deal with this. Jeff, early on you said: Personally, I’m a proponent of much tighter moderation on websites for the reason you noted: Why expose oneself to so much abuse? I think it’s possible to tighten the rules and encourage more thoughtful dialogue.”

    Jeff, I recognize it’s no easy task, but I hope you find a way to do so, and soon. Ken has a good point, and it may, indeed, limit participation in some ways, especially at first. But it should also draw in some other folks who stay away now because of the ugliness. It will no doubt be a fluid process with some tweaking of the rules from time to time. But hopefully the comments will evolve into a better place. Just one look at the Citizen-Times tells us how far things can go in the other direction without some control.

  114. travelah

    No one is attacking you, trav buddy. If we wanted to attack you, we’d call you a Calvanist.

    You would first have to learn to spell it before you could ever mount a serious attack.

  115. Barry Summers

    Sorry – C-A-L-V-I-N-I-S-T.

    Darn that MX and their stubborn refusal to allow us to correct for our ignorance and/or inebriation…

    Anyway, you’re just a big Calvinist.

  116. Barry Summers

    Everything that gets posted has to be checked now anyways, right?

    Actually David, I don’t think that’s the case. Once you get ‘approved’, your comments get posted automatically. There’s no review or cancellation unless there’s a complaint or a staffer just happens to spot something problematic. Jon & Jeff haven’t mentioned this issue, but I think one thing they’re trying to avoid is having to pay someone to monitor every single thread, all the time.

  117. oh. so the reason my stuff is not being posted immediately is because my account has not been “approved?” I did not realize this. Well, if there is no real moderator, then I see very little hope for this ever being civil and remaining on topic.

  118. Jon Elliston

    DCJ,

    We’ve cleared your account so that your posts will go straight up.

    And my apologies to all for not weighing in yet on the moderation questions in this thread (some very good ones, at that). It’s been a useful discussion that I’ll join a little later today.

  119. Barry Summers

    Well, if there is no real moderator, then I see very little hope for this ever being civil and remaining on topic.

    I share your pessimism to a point, but I think there is a chance to improve things by corralling the anonymous posters. With some few exceptions, I think the majority of the abuse comes from them. I still think a tiered comment system along with solid ID’s for both named and anonymous posters will curb most of the problem. And when the nonsense gets thinner, people will know the source of it more readily, and hopefully peer pressure or the occasional spanking of violators will persuade everyone to behave.

    I think it’s worth a try.

  120. Real name vs nome de plume is out the window without a real moderator.

    At the very least a moderator should skim the posts of the day for each article and when a fixed screen name appears to be off topic, hurling insults, playing inane guessing names about identities behind screen games, then their account is “disapproved” for a month and all their future comments will have to wait – like mine have for the past week – for approval. People with a good record stay “approved” and don’t need “supervision” to participate. But put the tots in “time-out” until they figure out there are limits to what is acceptable. I see several names in this thread that should be blocked from participating without supervision.

    That seems like a very simple low cost solution to me. You retain the anonymity option, you allow approved users to continue to post unmoderated & you allow a moderator to sequester those that abuse the system. You don’t have to moderate every post, just the ones who disprove their intent with repeated lame comments. Red flag them.

    One Citizen – One Account – One Screen Name – “Time-Out” for all those who insult, stray, or gum it up with inanity. (Let the forums remain unmoderated free-for-alls.)

    I would be more than happy to play the new sheriff in town for a month – for a nominal service charge – and clean this mess up real quick like.

  121. Barry: I see the tiered system being problematic because you will inevitably have cross talk between columns: folks in the A column will start responding to some folks in the B column and then you have three conversations going at once – A responds to A – “Peanut gallery” B responds to B comments and then occasionally A responds to B across the columns … it will be a real pain.

    One Citizen – One Account – One Screen Name – “Time-Out” for all those who insult, stray, or gum it up with inanity. You could even give them a warning before you put them in their first “Time-Out.” Absolutely no second warning, though. Three “Time-Outs” = account suspension for designated time period.

    People should have to think before they submit a comment.

    4 simple questions to ask before submitting a comment:

    Am I on topic?
    Am I insulting someone?
    Am I being inane?
    Am I engaged in a puerile guessing game?

  122. Ken Hanke

    Am I being inane?

    The ones who are being the most inane never think they are.

  123. What We Talk About When We Talk About Citizen Jour

    To the editor: I was hoping to get some clearer information about exactly what Citizen Journalism is. But this section of comments seems to be all about the comments section itself. So, here goes again, since you may be reading these comments today:
    Is the comments section (a kind of free-for-all, as far as I can tell) Citizen Journalism?
    Much, much earlier in this section, you told one commenter that Citizen Journalists were people like your theater reviewers and garden columnists. So much like regular free-lancers, just online instead of in-print?
    Will ANYONE be a Citizen Journalist (you submit, you get posted) or will their be some “roster” of citizen journalists chosen by you?
    Will Citizen-Journalists be fact-checked?
    Will Citizen-Journalists be edited?
    Will Citizen-Journalists adhere to your journalistic standards (regarding anonymous sources, for example, disclosure of personal/financial interests related to a story, etc.)?
    Will Citizen Journalists be paid?
    Is there a way to get the reactions/comments about your original article on changes coming to Mountain Express and Citizen Journalism separated from the people who are commenting back and forth about anonymous vs named comments, tiered comment rosters, paid or unpaid registration, etc. It’s like being at a crowded, noisy party, when I’m trying to talk to the one interesting and knowledgeable person in the room – you! – and I’m tempted to say, “Can we go somewhere where we can talk?”

  124. Barry Summers

    Jon, David makes a good point – you already have something of a tiered system already. The comment section here, and the forum section. Have you considered making the forums open to everybody, but the story comment section only open to named posters? I’m not sure I like it completely, but it might be worth considering.

  125. Barry Summers

    you already have something of a tiered system already.

    you know, in the Department of Redundancy Dept.

  126. travelah

    DCJ, what is it with your durn desire to be playground supervisor? Why don’t you just get on with something constructive to say and be done with it??

  127. Barry Summers

    Why don’t you just get on with something constructive to say and be done with it??

    See, this is an interesting example. Anyone who looks up this thread can see that DCJ has been making constructive comments for several days. One might disagree about the substance of what he’s saying, but he’s clearly trying to be constructive. An anonymous poster comes along and implies that DCJ hasn’t even attempted to say anything worthwhile, zooming straight past disagreement, right into misrepresentation, and then a hostile challenge that DCJ’s participation isn’t welcome.

    How would a moderator treat this? Worthy of a warning?

  128. If I were moderator, I would say that Travelah’s comment about DCJ not being constructive is a perfect example of a problematic post that should be warned once, and then disallowed. Travelah has attempted to move the discussion away from the ideas and on to a particular user’s personality/capacity. He is denigrating a user now, not doubting the idea. He did not have to do that to make his point. He could have just said, “I don’t like the idea of a playground supervisor here. It may lead to an abuse of power. I prefer an unmoderated free-for-all.” What he said instead – in effect – was: “Why don’t you get lost, DCJ?”

    Civil discussion is really pretty simple. You address the ideas, not the users. Look above. There are plenty of examples of people addressing the ideas and not putting the person who suggested the ideas down.

    Pretty easy to do. Pretty easy to moderate.

    Imagine having a discussion with say Noam Chomsky about some important civic issue and then someone in the room just starts calling him a dweeb and suggests that he hasn’t being constructive in anything that he has said … Where do you go from there? Do you just let it slide and slide and slide until Noam sez this is pointless and leaves the room, never to come back, and then you are stuck talking to the offending jack-ass?

    Is the MX comment blog to be a haven for jack-asses? Is that the idea? Should we spread the word that that is in fact the game plan here? Where are the “gatekeepers” on these ideas about realizing the potential of this service?

  129. Barry Summers

    He is denigrating a user now, not doubting the idea. He did not have to do that to make his point.

    What do you expect from a Calvinist?

  130. Barry Summers

    I know, go sit in the corner for 10 minutes… But seriously, there’s a point here. I’m not defending the Travmeister, by any means, but some people do argue in different styles. Trav’s style is to claim that others aren’t saying anything at all, because he doesn’t recognize the validity of their argument. It’s irritating and insulting, but it’s verging into territory that I wouldn’t always feel comfortable excluding.

    Another worry for me is that a moderator might perceive not just sarcasm, but honest criticism between users as being out of bounds. For example, if HK Edgerton were commenting on a thread about race, I would think it fair game to point out his business ties with hardcore white-supremacists. To me, it would be pertinent to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in a users past comments or outside life. Would that be considered ‘ad hominem’, and be disallowed?

  131. Barry Summers

    I was reading a book online a few years ago at the Pack library downtown. It was about the Bush family. When I finished one chapter & tried to call up the next, the library’s monitoring software blocked it, saying it violated their ‘hate speech’ policies. It was the chapter about the Bush family ties to the Nazis. I went to the reference desk to ask the librarian to use his discretion to unblock it, as it was clearly a mistake. He refused. He claimed that any book that alleged that the Bush family were Nazis should be blocked.

    I had to drive to another branch, and the librarian there unblocked it without a word.

  132. Ha-Ha, Barry … yes, go sit in the corner for 10 minutes … denigrating someone’s religious/political/sexual preference is uneccessary and out of bounds … you can make your points about his ideas without ragging on calvinism.

    I do not think that pointing out Edgerton’s business ties with hardcore white-supremacists would be useful in an online discussion about an issue relating to a news article. Whatever his comments happen to be in that thread, they should contain the seeds of truth or deceit or confused thinking and it is up to you to stick to dispelling the problems with his ideas as they have been presented, not his alleged or actual ties to a racist group.

    (Now if Edgerton were running for office, then yes I would think pointing that out would be the job of a GOOD journalist … but outside the thread.)

  133. Wildly amusing, given Prescott Bush’s support for the Nazis. But then, I guess that does qualify as hate speech. I hate it when U.S. politicians support Nazism.

  134. Barry Summers

    The Bush Dynasty always seems to be happy to support the “evil-doers.” (I wonder why?)

    Follow da monay.

  135. (I was kidding when I said “I wonder why” above.)

    These points about regulating speech are well taken. I believe hate speech is protected by the first amendment, but do private institutions have to permit it? No. Is this comment blog really a true free speech zone in the first place? No. Mt Xpress I am sure already blocks certain words/slurs from being printed here.

    Clearly the moderator will have to use his or her discretion, just as an umpire does on the ball field. I think it will be really obvious when something is just out of bounds, or a clear violation of guidelines. Start by eliminating those really obvious problems … let the “close calls” roll for now. It is bound to be a drastic improvement over what we have a this point.

  136. Piffy!

    [b]Travelah has attempted to move the discussion away from the ideas and on to a particular user’s personality/capacity[/b]

    Stick around, DCJ. That’s about 87% of his posts, and yet he’s posted here for years. The MX doesnt care, and the more ‘conservative’ your politics, the more they’ll give you a ‘pass’. That is, if you are a regular here who doesnt spew right-wing talking points, you will be moderated far more heavily.

  137. Piffy!

    [b]I lost interest in participating on this thread (which I think started to have the potential to be worthwhile) way back precisely because of the asinine contributions of the sock puppets who really only served to disrupt, undermine and sabotage any type of sophisticated, civil conversation. [/b]

    And obviously, that is a big part of their MO. The handfull of cullen’s and willards who post nothing but sock-puppet drivel serve to dilute and derail constructive dialogue. And yet the MX continues to allow them to keep posting. It’s absurd.

    i think they have monkeys moderating. Really. No actual, living human could possibly see that stuff and not know it is tripe unworthy of posting.

  138. travelah

    pfftsterp, I thnk a valid question would be to ask why MX continues to allow your drive by style of irrelevance to continue here. You have been pfffing over people for a couple of years now. I can count on my uncles hand the number of constructive posts you are contributed here and he lost a few fingers years ago.

    The fact is that when a constructive and engaged post is made by myself or anybody not caught up in the ‘tarded group think of wierd asheville, the MX has seen fit to allow the pfftsperp and entopticon breathing vomit road show to piss all over the page. I project back onto you what you actually are. Until the MX takes the board content seriously, then all is the same.

    Now how many ad homs do I have in there. Count em on all 13 of your toes.

  139. Eamon Martin

    Several posts back, someone made the repeated request that Xpress editors clarify what their working conception of citizen journalism is. I’m eager to hear this as as well.

    I’ve seen numerous forums quickly degenerate into a cesspool of anything but civil discourse, oftentimes because (as pkippy points out) there are some folks who have nothing better to do with their time but spread hateful mischief about which is purposefully intended to subvert meaningful dialogue. I don’t know what you call it, but it surely isn’t journalism.

  140. Jon Elliston

    Thanks again for all the observant and probing questions on the matters of commenting and moderation. I’ll respond on those fronts soon, as they are topics near and dear to me and ones that I’ve gained new perspective on from this thread.

    That said, for the moment, let me address the questions of a recent poster who brought it back home to the original topic of the commentary:

    I was hoping to get some clearer information about exactly what Citizen Journalism is. But this section of comments seems to be all about the comments section itself. So, here goes again, since you may be reading these comments today:
    Is the comments section (a kind of free-for-all, as far as I can tell) Citizen Journalism?

    Not exactly, or certainly not by itself. The comments are still a bit of a free for all, though one in which real insights and details that add to stories crop up and sometimes dominate, just as surely as the chat often goes off course. So, they’re an unruly but natural, in many ways, outgrowth of our attempt at informing and hosting local dialogues. But I don’t consider them “journalism” and don’t think they need to be.

    Much, much earlier in this section, you told one commenter that Citizen Journalists were people like your theater reviewers and garden columnists. So much like regular free-lancers, just online instead of in-print?

    I’d say that we’re integrating citizen journalists into Xpress both online and in print. When we do it right, we cross back and forth the digital/print divide. See my commentary above for descriptions of some of the online efforts. I should have mentioned one of the collaborations that spanned many of the elements of our new approach: The Burton Street project — online at http://www.mountainx.com/burtonst — which combined the forces of our news staffers, some of our frequent freelancers, volunteer reporters and photographers, and Burton Street neighborhood residents to forge a wealth of material on an important story both online and in print.

    Will ANYONE be a Citizen Journalist (you submit, you get posted) or will their be some “roster” of citizen journalists chosen by you?
    Will Citizen-Journalists be fact-checked?
    Will Citizen-Journalists be edited?
    Will Citizen-Journalists adhere to your journalistic standards (regarding anonymous sources, for example, disclosure of personal/financial interests related to a story, etc.)?

    As much as we’re trying to be inclusive, we’ll still be choosy about who we work with. Our journalistic standard is still to provide sound facts about local matters, and when we or anyone we collaborate with on a project or a report is passing on what we assert to be fact, you should hold us to it, and we should deliver.

    Will Citizen Journalists be paid?

    Some will, some won’t. It depends on the form our collaboration takes, case by case, and whatever agreement all the parties involved reach. We’re open to talking terms and being straight about what we can afford, what we can do for collaborators, and what we need from them. At the root of it all is an effort to assist and advance the groundswell of grassroots journalism in our area, while still doing plenty of the heavy lifting on our own.

    Is there a way to get the reactions/comments about your original article on changes coming to Mountain Express and Citizen Journalism separated from the people who are commenting back and forth about anonymous vs named comments, tiered comment rosters, paid or unpaid registration, etc. It’s like being at a crowded, noisy party …

    Sorry for the noise, and I’m sorry we don’t yet have a system in place that would sort this conversation to suit its original intent. That said, I’m open to wandering conversations, and have seen some tangents bear fruit on Xpress comment threads, this one included. But that’s a topic for another comment.

  141. Jon Elliston

    Regarding our moderation practices, there are obviously many points to address from the discussion above. We need stronger moderation and better systems for it — for vetting and sorting, among other tasks.

    But before I get to all that, allow me a few considered but sometimes gut-level observations:

    • A portion of our work moderating comments here is dedicated to mediating and minimizing spats between people who differ vastly, sometimes to the point of spewing rhetorical bile on each other at every available opportunity. For the most part, we try to minimize that portion.

    • One way we do so is to insist on no personal name-calling. Still, plenty of veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) slights slip through.

    • We’ve learned that one person’s slight is another person’s supposedly astute critique. And we’re sometimes surprised at the level of offense people on these threads profess. “He called us this,” one side protests. “He called us that,” the other retorts. “How dare you let them say that?” is what many sides wind up saying. As a journalist, I never signed up for the Conversation Police, and I’m wary of strictly steered conversations.

    • There’s no shortage of calls to curb the conversation here. Some people want “off-topic” banned (even as they veer off into well-meant off-topics). Some want anonymous commenters banned. Some want those who use insults and/or satire and/or hyperbole banned. And sometimes, it seems clear that people want the people they disagree with banned, a notion that’s not going to fly here.

    • We also wish that more of the conversations were constructive, and will keep looking for ways to support the ones that are.

    • Critics from all sides might be heartened if they saw just how many comments never see the light of day or are taken down. We’re sorry that too many sockpuppets and saboteurs get through — believe me, we have no special love for them — but many more get shut out of this conversation, for what it’s worth. That said, we should get better at weeding them out.

    • Personally, one way I’ve tried to minimize concern with sockpuppets and would-be conversation spoilers is to ignore them. In my experience, they only thrive when engaged.

  142. travelah

    Ha haha … “traveliar” slips through every time. I will probably do as you suggest and simply ignore those who cannot manage their vitriolic tendencies. Well articulated posts speak for themselves regardless of the persuasions of the contributor.

  143. What We Talk About When We Talk About Citizen Jour

    Thank you so much to Jon Ellison for his answers to my questions. I’m finally beginning to get a better idea of Citizen Journalism. I missed the Burton Street Project altogether (and I’m a compulsive reader of MX), so you may want to think about how to highlight these focused citizen journalism efforts.
    It sounds like you’re going to choose some key civic topics and round up some “citizen journalists” to collaborate on extended coverage. Sounds good. Round up some good citizens who are good journalists! Make their efforts more visible.

    Are you looking into SeeClickFix?

  144. I guess all my suggestions for improving moderation practices here – particularly the “time-out” idea, were, in the end, as Travelah suggested, not very “constructive” after all.

    :-{

  145. Barry Summers

    I guess all my suggestions for improving moderation practices here – particularly the “time-out” idea, were, in the end, as Travelah suggested, not very “constructive” after all.

    I don’t get it.

  146. It seems like the Obama administration must be running things at Xpress … they talk and talk about improving things and making some real changes, but really it remains the same old song and dance …

    … the audacity of hope strikes again!

    SAY LA VIE

  147. Barry Summers

    Maybe I missed something – are you saying that you think nothing will change here? I hadn’t gotten that out of Jon’s last comment…

  148. Jon Elliston

    Yeah, David, I don’t follow what you’re saying here. Can you elaborate, then I’ll get back to you? Thanks.

  149. I am being sort of tongue and cheek … sort of …

    I don’t really get the idea that anything will change regarding moderation based on Jon’s last post. Basically it seems like relativism still rules – “one person’s slight is another person’s supposedly astute critique” – and that the worst thing that can happen to someone who posts a personal attack, or goes off into some inanity, is their post will get removed, IF it doesn’t “slip through.” That really is not much of a “consequence” to be concerned about, nor does it seem like much of a change coming down.

    I do agree with Jon that ignoring the inane is perhaps the best policy under the current rubric of “moderation” … which seems like very minimal, “hands-off” rubric at best, which might be fine in the forums, but here it is often disappointing.

    If you can discern a hint of a real change in moderation policy in his post, Barry, I would love you to elucidate it for me.

  150. Jon, it just seems like you are satisfied with the current system of moderation which still allows for a bunch of wild inanity & guessing about who is behind pen names and similar distractions. These comments drag the discourse DOWN. I don’t really get the feeling that your rubric is going to change … all you seem to be suggesting is that you will try to intensify the current efforts within the current system. I am saying the problem is systemic. Without really setting up consequences, no one is going to take the desire to change seriously. I think a real change is only going to come with a real change in policy about comments.

    These types of comments will not be permitted:

    Personal attacks, Guessing games about anonymity, wildly off-topic tangents.

    I think there should be more of a consequence that results from engaging in the above errors in judgement. Not simply the occasional deletion of a post, but a time-out which will lead to an eventual suspension. Violators get flagged and must have comments approved, as if there account is no longer “verified” … their participation is limited for a spell …

    What specifically is wrong with this type of change? It allows for anonymity to remain an option. It does nothing to inhibit disagreements with ideas. It just sends a message that certain types of comments are not approved of here.

    Look at how many threads are gummed up by the same people speculating ad infintum about the identity behind some pseudonym. Why even permit that? It is litter. It is like throwing plastic bottles in the ocean.

    None of what I am suggesting would limit any kind of real discourse or disagreement about ANY ideas “left” or “right” or anywhere in between.

    We are talking about schooling distraction, nothing more. Eliminating some inane distractions. It is easily doable. If you can point out a specific problem with these specific suggestions of mine, I would very much appreciate that … that would be more in line with an actual dialogue … monologuing about the current system and its pros and cons in response to my suggestions for positive change is not really engaging in a constructive dialogue.

  151. Jon Elliston

    Thanks, David, I think I see your concern.

    Please note that I wrote: “We need stronger moderation and better systems for it — for vetting and sorting, among other tasks.”

    And I meant it. We’re exploring those changes with help from conversations like this one. But some of these would be major changes, and it will take some time and deliberation to adopt them. We don’t quite turn on a dime with matters as fundamental as this, as much as we’d like to sometimes.

    And I’d reiterate that there is much more moderating and banning going on behind the scenes than is apparent from what surfaces here.

    Hopefully, with some new systems in place, we’ll weed out more of the trash talk and enliven the dialogue for those who want it that way. Bear with us, though, as it will take some time. And thanks again for your many good suggestions.

  152. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Amazon uses the following checks to allow their readership to help with moderation, and this item checking (for each posting) does seem to weed out a lot of riff-raff (not all, of course, but some of the most egregious):

    Report abuse (check)

    Ignore this customer (check)

    # of # people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you? YES NO (check one)

  153. I am just being sort of a hard ass here. I know you are serious about improving the Xpress. I am just going to hold you to it from my little corner. No real animosity. I don’t doubt that there is a good bit of moderating going on behind the scenes, still, even on this thread some stuff has come through that should have been weeded out, and easily could have been weeded, if you slightly modify the system. 1st time offenders get “un-verified” and future comments from them have to be approved for a designated period – this si known as delayed gratification and it is how people are brought to maturity, or at least schooled until they get it right.

    Pretty simple plan. Still allows for anonymity. Even allows you to change your pen name daily, but, with a one citizen – one account policy, you will be able to easily identify and sequester “sock-puppets”.

    What are the specific problems with these ideas? Anyone?

  154. Barry Summers

    I like your suggestions, David. I guess I still have the question for Jon & Jeff – are they hoping for some solution that won’t necessitate having a live person to monitor the threads 24/7? On a practical level, that’s where more stringent monitoring/regulation of things will lead.

  155. From my past experience in being embroiled in a recent ongoing controversy which Mtn Exp covered…it was uncanny how fast the anonymous posters who seemed to relish in ad hominum attacks, smoke screening and just plain prevarication, disappeared when Mountain Express’s editor put his foot down and demanded that all posters verify and post under their real identities. It was an amazing thing to be part of and to observe. JMHE
    (just my humble experience)

  156. Opps, meant to say “amazing how fast they vanished into thin air”.

    While we’re at it, I’d like an edit button/option.

  157. Jon Elliston

    Barry, you ask a good question. Ideally, yes, moderation wouldn’t be a 24/7 drain on a staff person. It’s already pretty time-consuming, so anything that could be done to whittle that down (without hampering the dialogue) would be welcome. I suppose we’ll always have some mix of the two: a workable system and some good ‘ol human moderation to keep things moving on an even keel.

  158. Jon Elliston

    And David, to be clear: No one’s saying your suggestions aren’t good ones that should be explored. But they will take some explorations before they can flat-out be adopted. It’s easy to say that a new system will be easy and workable before you institute, but we’ve learned from experience that every system has its pros and cons. Fortunately, as we move ahead we’ll have the benefit of all the good ideas suggested here.

    And Davyne, I recall what you’re referencing; it is telling how different the dialogue can become on heated topics when folks are required to use their real names. Something we should be mindful of as we try to improve our moderation here.

  159. Barry Summers

    I continue to believe that 90% of the nonsense will disappear if you make people use real names. The folks who don’t want to play by those rules will be replaced by others who are attracted to a venue that has substantial discussion, and not airborne monkeypoo.

  160. WhatWeTalkAboutWhenWeTalkAboutCitizenJournalism

    Anyone seriously interested in the original issue of Citizen Journalism introduced by Jon Elliston (and not just reading the Barry Summers-David Connor Jones Morning Show on how to monitor comments, with a few call-ins from others) might want to take a look at Michael Hirschorn’s article “Get Me Rewrite! A modest proposal for reinventing newspapers for the digital age” in the Atlantic, December 2006. (www.theatlantic.com/doc/200612/hirschorn-newspapers) Hirschorn was ahead of us by at least four years in his thinking and way beyond any of us (this “citizen journalist” included) in the sophistication of his analysis.

    And now back to the Barry and David Show.

  161. Barry Summers

    GYAC, David. hahahahahahahaha

    And now a word from our sponsors…

    BTYBCJ

  162. Just one quick point that supports the idea that requiring users to use their real name …

    I have been engaged in a heated discussion about Obama and the Military Industrial complex on another thread here, with one fello user in particular.

    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2009/another_military-industrial_president_in_progressive_garb/

    About half way through the discussion, which was completely amped emotionally and full of knee-jerk reaction and even some mild name calling, I figured out this anonymous characters real name/identity and I started using it and lo and behold, his tone changed and we started having a very reasonable dialogue.

    Still not sure I would want to eclipse the right for a user to remain anonymous online … but definitely for one account-one user name and require verification to even post once. Requiring immediate verification would cut down on all the late posts that half to wait for moderators to read through and approve. Moderators would only be charged with putting abusers in time out. Time-outs, aka consequences, would reduce abuse.

    And now back to the idea of citizen journalism …

  163. Here is an absolutely FANTASTIC “citizen-journalist” idea for the Mountain Express to consider … it gives publisher Jeff Fobes a rather easy way to put his money where his mouth is when he writes above:

    I find it distasteful to get my news from corporate America. And at least at the local level, I’m of the opinion that activists (impassioned citizens) can report better than megamedia, who treat the locals the same way that colonial empire-builders treated Third World natives.

    I could not agree with you more, Jeff. Now, a few years ago the Xpress co-opted a local paper known as the Asheville Disclaimer. They are a rather harmless “Onion” type of local satire and I am sure many people pick up the Xpress in part to see what this group of ribald citizen journalists will poke fun at each week. I don’t know how much you pay the disclaimer writers for doing what they do, but I suspect it is not exorbitant.

    Now our own Eamon Martin, along with Edwin Shealy and Steve Livingston and a few other “progressive” local volunteers, collates important under-reported news from around the world every week FOR FREE. Eamon and the Asheville Global Report have even garnered National Media awards from Project Censored.

    Now a while back, about the time you picked up the disclaimer, after I had become involved with getting a radio show edition of the paper started at WPVM and then a video version of the show produced on URTV, the paper version we all new as the AGR had to fold for financial reasons. This was unfortunate because a lot of locals really enjoyed reading about all this under-reported news as they drank their coffee and what not around town.

    Well, strike up the band! Here is great idea for you to consider, why not fold the AGR into the Xpress like you did with Jon’s friends at the The Disclaimer. The work is already getting done each week for the GR web site, internet radio, URTV and the Satellite TV Dish network. How hard would it be to insert a single page next to The Disclaimer page each week? You would not have to pay anyone to write anything. It would just be the cost of one more page back and front with one side giving you important global news, AGR style, and the other side you could use for more Ad Revenue. Hell, I bet there are even some businesses that would pony up to advertise on the GR insert. Many of your Ad clients regularly paid to advertise in the AGR. You could still maintain editorial control. If ever an article was deemed to risque because it brought up a subject deemed by your ed. board as uncomfortable (“too radical”) for readership, then you could pass on that particular story. No hard feelings at all. It’s not like there is some shortage of under-reported news each week in America today. I would be happy to to offer my services free of charge to act as a liason between the Express and the Global Report in coordinating the layout of that single page each week. Just think of the jump in circulation you would get! All the local cranks that don’t feel represented by you anymore & think you are just a milquetoast “no news” ad weekly would start picking it up again. Hell, it might even do some real good in the battle for shaping a public opinion with some real integrity.

    Well, whaddya say? Pretty swell idea, no?

  164. DCJ
    The problem I see with your otherwise brilliant suggestion is that the Global Report print edition lifted its news from other, copyrighted sources. It was able to do so because it was set up as a nonprofit (as I understand it – I’m not a lawyer). I think the copyright police would prohibit a for-profit entity from using that material.

  165. “Still not sure I would want to eclipse the right for a user to remain anonymous online …”

    Well except for entiopticon, huh?

  166. DCJ said “Well, whaddya say? Pretty swell idea, no?”

    Except that Mtn Exp’s strength is in covering local issues. Which, while not perfectly done, it does do better than any other print media in town. JMHO

    The “Global Report’s” very name indicates global subject matter…and subsequently hard to look into objectively & thoroughly. By the very fact that it my be news from halfway around the world (global)…it’s not feasable to send a writer to investigate. How does the producer of GA know if the under reported news is being reported from yet another biased point of view if they’re merely “lifting” or “borrowing”???? How does GA gather it’s independent facts, ????

  167. Jeff Fobes

    I like DCJ’s “fantastic” idea, but as Davyne Dial notes, Global Report’s focus is not local.

    For about 22 years now, Xpress and Green Line have kept the focus excruciatingly local. I’ve thought over those years that if we were to expand our focus, it should be slowly outward, to incorporate WNC and NC issues — but only when we’d mastered the local (which seems like chasing the rainbow’s end).

    My fantasy has been that other communities would have their own excruciatingly local pubs, and that we’d all learn to collaborate to create a network of citizen-based journalism — and this would allow for statewide and/or nationwide coverage.

    It seems to me that real democracy has to start at home and around the block, and from there build outward.

    It also seems to me that expanding to cover national and global issues without the local/regional base will give us what we pretty much have now: Network news, megacorporate outlets serving up entertaining, safe news of the weird for the masses, news that reinforces our role as consumers rather than citizens and activists.

    I know we need national and global journalism. But my heart yearns for the quality of dialogue in local reporting, where the “audience” can actually participate in the events being covered and can help fact-check the coverage.

    One more thing that I love and trust about locally focused journalism: If done with respect and empathy, it breaks down stereotypes, which seem to be the byproduct and bane of national/international media.

    Eamon will likely have rejoinders to all this. But whatever he says, the fact I cling to is that I am likely to see him on the street downtown any day, and we’ll suddenly be grounded utterly locally.

  168. Cecil: So when Chris Matthews quotes a New York Times article on MSNBC and they pull the article or part of the article and throw it up on the screen and zoom in on the quote with NYT letterhead, is MSNBC having to pay the New York Times? (Or are they both owned by the same conglomerate?) How does Alternet get a way with it? Aren’t they for profit with all there web ads and millions of hits?

    Davyne: The Global Report does not gather “independent facts”, nor does it write independent stories. It gathers stories done by independent and often affiliated journalists and puts them out in one lump each week. It removes all the “news of the weird” fluff and the network promos for ipods on CNN’s tech watch “news” segment. (They actually get Anderson Cooper and some bimbo to talk about how great ipods are for 15 minutes from the news desk and call it “tech watch.”) The GR dumps all this extraneous garbage which is used to distract and obfuscate and mold consumer habits and edits it all down to a few “hard” – often completely disregarded – news stories. Really, the NYTimes and and Washington Post do the same thing. They pull stories that their editors really like from the AP and other news wires (consortiums of independent journalists) and put them out under the NYT aegis. The news that you and I read is not so much made by the events, or even independent journalists reporting these events, but rather what you and I take to be “the news” is made by editors and publishers making decisions about what will get published when and where … and what they WON’T publish.

    Ah, Jeff, I have few rejoinders myself:

    It seems to me that real democracy has to start at home and around the block, and from there build outward.

    Agreed. However, real democracy even on your block requires a WORLD VIEW. Events occurring in the world affect your local citizens. What informs that local world view? CNN? NYT? ACT? It used to be that local newspapers focused on world events and local events. Every mid-sized town had several newspapers and they were not just running local fluff. They were running stories about all kinds of events national and international as well as local. OP/Eds used to be done by locals rather than flown on syndication. There was a local character to reporting and thinking about world events. Mt X is about all we have now when it comes to local character expressed in Newsprint. Gannet doesn’t really get it. We are living in a vaccuum today.

    It also seems to me that expanding to cover national and global issues without the local/regional base will give us what we pretty much have now: Network news, megacorporate outlets serving up entertaining, safe news of the weird for the masses, news that reinforces our role as consumers rather than citizens and activists.

    I think you really don’t understand what the Global Report does each week if you think by incorporating a single page collecting a few of its stories in your local weekly will some how give us more of what we have already: “Network news, megacorporate outlets serving up entertaining, safe news of the weird for the masses, news that reinforces our role as consumers…” I really cannot follow you on that point. Can you try to make that line of reasoning more clear for me? (You already publish “safe News of The Weird for the masses” each week, if you find that so distasteful, why not replace that page with a Global Report spread, or something like it. It won’t spread like some cancer and take over the Xpress. You must not have read my “fantastic” proposal very carefully. I said nothing about biting into your regional and local reporting. “News of the Weird” certainly is not regional or local. It is milquetoast entertainment and you run it every week.

    I know we need national and global journalism. But my heart yearns for the quality of dialogue in local reporting, where the “audience” can actually participate in the events being covered and can help fact-check the coverage.

    Who is fact checking “The News of the Weird?” ??? You would definitely be generating some more very real and adamant an interesting local dialogue if you integrated a single GR-like page, like you do with The Disclaimer. You can’t be serious here when you assert that integrating a single page outlining a few national stories that are not getting reported would some how detract from local dialogues about the local stories that you publish each week. Please elaborate.

    What about this International/National article you published a week back? Where is the local angle here?

    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2009/another_military-industrial_president_in_progressive_garb/

    the fact I cling to is that I am likely to see him on the street downtown any day, and we’ll suddenly be grounded utterly locally.

    I do not understand this statement.

    Eamon may not have the time or the inclination to do something like this now any how, but the fact is that if the Xpress were to integrate something like it – a single page of underreported national international news – its effects could be nothing but POSITIVE, and not hurt the local mission of the Xpress at all. (It could only boost circulation and web hits. No one is going be like: “Damn! The Xpress is including a single page of hard under reported Global news now! What happened to my News of the Weird? There goes the neighborhood…”

    One more thing that I love and trust about locally focused journalism: If done with respect and empathy, it breaks down stereotypes, which seem to be the byproduct and bane of national/international media.

    Wow! Do mean to imply that the stories that the Editors at the GR choose to run don’t express empathy with oppressed people everywhere and seek to break down stereotypes. I hope you don’t really believe that.

    I want to take a moment to talk about “stereo-typing” here. When I moved here in 2000 I started picking up a copy of the Asheville Global Report along with my copy of the Mt Xpress each week. I found both very useful then. A few years later along came WPVM headstrong with volunteer support and idealism. I got on board specifically with idea that the AGR could easily be fitted for a weekly radio broadcast. It was I believe the first local produced news show on the air there. Now when it came time to program the show a fellow volunteer who had been instrumental in bringing the station to air, a man in his late 60s who had been previously working for Pacifica Radio for 25 years before retiring and relocating to Aville, looked at me and said with a straight face: “Asheville Global Report? Aren’t those kids just two steps from throwing bombs?” I could not believe it. I had heard other such ridiculous assumptions from other quarters in this town. The stereotype was that because they actually reported on activism on a regular basis, along with many other kinds of stories that they were some kind of “radical” weather underground type of irresponsible journalism to be shunned and avoided. Well guess what? “I said hey man when is the last time you actually read the thing? And I gave him a copy and within a week or two he was helping produce the show. He is STILL producing the show to this day, 5 some odd years later! So lets just get this out on the table. The GR is not a radical organization whatever that means. It is no more radical or irresponsible than Democracy Now! or Project Censored or FAIR. The irony is that people who denigrate independent underfunded purveyors of real news look to CNN and MSNBC as being organizations with some kind of journalistic integrity. Those are corporate entities are just massive PR outlets, shaping their carefully selected stories and facts via bully pulpit punditry – Mathews, Kudlow, Hannity, Scarburrough O’Reilly – and hack “objective” anchors – like Kouric and Cooper and Maddow – to mold a mesmerized public opinion.

    http://www.amazon.com/Arguments-Elimination-Television-Jerry-Mander/dp/0688082742

  169. Jon Elliston

    DCJ,

    Thanks again for weighing in with so many good ideas and questions. I can’t respond to all you’ve suggested in the post above, given some time constraints today, but I wanted to touch base on a few points.

    Maybe I’m misreading you, but you seem to imply that the NY Times and Washington Post simply cobble together AP reports of their choosing. They do a lot more than that, as they still have pretty sizable news staffs and some kick-ass reporters. I’ve met a bunch of them who are as dedicated and diligent about getting the truth our as you and I are. I notice, by way of example, that the current Global Report newsletter distills two very good reports from the Times — on how the U.S. loan effort is adding to housing woes, and one on living on nothing but food stamps — and one from the Washington Post, on the U.S. taking a majority stake in GMAC.

    Which brings me to another point: AGR is doing some smart aggregation of national and international news stories, and I appreciate that they do that. But leaving aside the issue of why we focus on local news, your suggestion is that we run a digest of AGR-selected news that’s not being published. Here’s the thing though — those smartly aggregated stories *are* being published, in places like the NYT, the Post and many other publications. They may not be getting the attention you or I would like, but let’s not pretend they’re not getting published.

    Your point about News of the Weird not being local is a good one. Neither is Free Will Astrology, or the crossword puzzle. But these items are very popular with our readers; not the only reason to keep entertaining syndicated features in the paper, but a good one. We have to draw the line somewhere, of course; and we do try to make sure that the vast majority of what we publish is local in nature.

    And I haven’t seen anyone on this thread denigrate what the AGR does, or call it radical. But you make a nice defense in the event that anyone does.

    And you asked: What about this International/National article you published a week back? Where is the local angle here?

    That wasn’t an article. It was a letter to the editor.

  170. Thanks, Jon.

    I am aware that a few of the stories that the Global Report aggregates are being published in the few remaining big majors on one of their many, many pages between all the ads and the celebrity fluff and lame Op/Eds. I also understand that the NYT and WP and others do actually still employ some “kick-ass” journalists – they also employs some not so kick-ass journalists that occasionally get busted on fact checking, career credentials and spinning and contriving for wars and outing CIA officers. All that said, they also selectively pull from the AP wires stories by journalists they do not employ. Nothing wrong with that. My point remains that journalist don’t make the news, publishers and managing editors do. They all have editors who have been vetted and hired by publishers to decide on a daily basis what will get published on what page and what will get accented and what won’t. If you understood my term “underreported” to mean “unpublished”, then I would suggest you fact check those two words and their denotations and not simply roll with misconstrued connotations.
    ;-)

    I must say I actually really do enjoy the Freewill Astrology very much, as it always seems to give very thoughtful advice, no matter the sign. Though I must confess, I put ZERO faith in the idea that the locations of planets and stars in the night sky at the time of one’s birth have any real humanly discernible bearing on my personality or fate. You run these three (crossword/astrology/news of the weird) because they are popular – what makes you think a page of “News of the Underreported” would not be popular here in The Land of the Sky? How would it detract or hurt the Xpress & its mission?

    I do agree with you that it is true that no one from the Mt Xpress on this thread has explicitly called the AGR “too radical.” However, I was not really sure what publisher Jeff Fobes meant by his comment about “stereotyping” above. It seemed like he was suggesting that because the Global Report is not doing local news, or even flying to Bagdad to get a scoop, that it was not capable of being empathetic and was somehow engaged in fostering-reinforcing stereotypes? That seemed like it my be a put down of sorts. (There were several remarks in Jeff’s response that I did not understand and I was seeking clarification on.)

    And I did just figure out that Bill Branyon was writing a letter to the editor, and not actually writing a commentary for the Xpress. (My bad.)

    Now, I have gone about as long and hard as one of my favorite citizen activists, Hazel Fobes, was want to go on at a City Council public comment session. If only I were as eloquent as she was. (I just might be as persistent.)

    JMAC: The operant phrase in the quote of mine you reposted above was “I am not sure.” (Go back to that thread and read my last comment if you want further explanation for “outing” Entopticon.)

  171. Davynne, you are too cute!

    If you want to see an exemplary case of “fact-checking” by “citizen journalist” Davynne Dial, I could publish for you all here the 7 page letter that she and Richard Berniere cobbled together for city manager Gary Jackson in a blatant effort to destroy URTV. (There almost went part of the neighborhood!)

  172. Ha! Called your bluff, didn’t I?

    Besides that would be O.T., and a learned journalist like you’re painting yourself out to be, for sure, oughtta know not to do that.

  173. Well actually, it wouldn’t really be off topic, as this thread is supposed to be about the pros and cons of citizen journalism. The hatchet job you guys tried to pull was in part sponsored by Xpress, however unwittingly, via all that bunk you fed young David Forbes, who did NOT fact check many of your allegations before printing them.

    But since David Gantt drop-kicked your hired gun from New Jersey, Mr. Rosenthal, from the County Commissioners meeting a few months back – and effectively from Buncombe county on the whole – and you have made no more head way against URTV since then, and the Xpress has done a great article on the value of the Cable Access channel with glowing article in praise of its merits – an edition of the Xpress which happened to have a shot of Eamon Martin doing the GR show on its cover – I see no point in dragging that all out again here & now.

  174. So all this editorializing you’ve been doing is an attempt to get MtnExp. to do a cover piece on your show. Hmmmmm.

    As for your most recent comments of 5:40 pm…that’s your opinion, you’re certainly entitled to it. It looks entirely different from my point of view. In the nine month series of exposes’ following the shenanigans at URTV.(see articles here: http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/URTV/P30/

    Mountain Express did give the management of URTV plenty of opportunity to respond to the various situations they created themselves last year by being non compliant of; open meeting laws, City and County management agreements, and laws covering publicly funded non profits….Course from my point of view the reason they gave no response when ask by Mountain Express, is because there was no legal foundation to fall back on. JMHO

  175. “JMAC: The operant phrase in the quote of mine you reposted above was “I am not sure.” (Go back to that thread and read my last comment if you want further explanation for “outing” Entopticon.)”

    Argument for Anonymity
    “outing” him in my opinion seemed stalky and hostile, I know you do not wish him harm, but he may not. He seemed to run in fear.

    Argument against Anonymity
    Arguably he may have run out of fear that his online ID was so embarrassing to his real life ID.

    That issue is a tough one, “but the one citizen one vote” is a no brainer

  176. No, Davynne, I am not angling for a new cover story. The Xpress already did a second cover story about URTV, Eamon happened to be on the cover of that issue. Surely you recall commenting about that follow up article, the one they did after the one you and Richard B. and John Blackwell engineered that put URTV in very negative light. I think the myriad letters to the editor on the perceived unfairness of that piece buttresses my “opinion” on that matter. And yes, you are certainly entitled to see your attempt to destroy the Executive Director and URTV with her as a “fair and balanced” set of moves. Everyone here has their opinions. But beneath a thousand opinions lies the truth of each matter, like whose address hired gun Mr. Rosenthal was using when he set up camp here in Bunmcombe County and began lobbying City Council and the County Commissioners to shut down URTV.

    The “editorializing” that I have been doing here in the citizen journalist “free speech zone” has been about brainstorming ways to better integrate citizen journalism into the Xpress in an effort to improve the content of the Xpress and perhaps help shape our very sorry media environment for the better at the local level. I well understand that the Xpress is dedicated to local issues and not national or international ones. My “fantastic” idea was a passing thought on ways publisher Jeff Fobes could “fight the good fight” about the immense problems of the corporate media strangle hold that he cites above as very disappointing to him personally. It had very little to do with eclipsing the local mission or even taking space away from that mission. It was about inserting a page of nationally underreported non-local information, like they already do with the crossword/horoscope/news of the weird. How would one more leaf of non-local info – bringing the total to 4 – really hurt?

    I found it funny that after Jon rightly pointed out that no one on this thread had denigrated GR thus far, you followed up with a “there goes the neighborhood” comment. The event of denigration that Jon praised me advance for defending against occurred immediately. I would be very curious to know, Davynne, what you meant by that comment. Do you feel that the items the GR reports on are biased? Do you feel like you have found stories that were dubious in regards to the facts? Which ones? Try to be more specific. Being specific gives your criticism some merit. Right now you are stuck at the level of aspersion. As someone who has supported and worked with them in the past I would be very interested to hear your criticisms fleshed out. Maybe you have legitimate concerns that escaped my notice.

    http://theglobalreport.org/

  177. JMAC: I did not see it that way. Entopticon began to bring aspects of my identity into the dialogue that had no bearing on what was being examined. On top of that, he cast aspersions about those aspects of my identity in that discussion in an effort to weaken my position. As a musician in this town, I take some offense at “get a life” drug jokes. I decided at that point to find out who this character actually was. To my knowledge, there is no policy, as of yet, about using someone’s real name on the Xpress blogs. If you drop hints in your posts about who know in town and who you are friends with, you are starting to slip up on maintaining your “cover.” When I did finally use his real name, the dialogue changed in tone and continued for quite some time, and in my opinion it became even more productive and far more cordial. He did not run away from it. Nor did he seem to run in fear of my “stalking” him, we have many friends here town in common. I have no resentment towards him or the points he made against mine. He knows my name and who I am, so why would he fear me bothering him offline?

    I really do think using your real name shows back bone and requires you to think more about the comments you make, as your public reputation is at stake. Hiding behind a pen name is weak, and comments by anonymous posters often exhibit that weakness. While Davynne and I may disagree about things politically and philosophically, I have respect for her and her right to her opinions, and I feel pretty sure she has the same attitude towards me. We know each other from URTV. We are real people in this community. Same with Richard Bernier and Don Yelton and host of other folks that post here from time to time. I may disagree with each of them on certain matters, and I actually agree with them on other matters, believe it or not. Each of our comments are traceable to citizens in the community that we all care about. I think that has merit. Transparency leads to greater accountability which leads responsible citizenship. These blogs do not have to be trivialized forums where people vent their frustrations on others from behind fake names. What a drag that is. Come out, come out where ever you are and use your real name. Anonymity promotes a throwaway culture. It allows it to remain ungrounded.

    At the very least “one citizen-one account” would eliminate sock puppetry. Immediate verification would cut down on cursory “moderation” of unverified accounts and it would make the comments more fluid because everything would get posted in real time. “Time-outs” would apply consequences to abuse. Rules could be made a little more stringent, beyond simply censoring racial slurs and few choice 4 letter words.

  178. ATTN: DCJ…..Here’s a great guideline for how a non profit should be run….check it out. The fiduciary responsiblity balls in your court. It’ll be very revealing how your deal with it.

    “Five Internal Controls for the Very Small Nonprofit
    Nonprofit Finance & Strategy • By Carl Ho, CPA • January 6, 2010 •

    Segregation of duties, checks & balances . . . difficult to implement in the organization that has perhaps three or fewer staff, or only a few active board members in an all-volunteer organization. We asked CPA Carl Ho, who works with dozens of small nonprofits, what would be the five most important, most do-able controls for small groups:

    1. The first and most important consideration is to set the control environment, that is, to let everyone know, from the top down, that there are policies in place and everyone has to follow the policies. In so many organizations the top person makes exceptions for himself or herself about policies, which sets a sloppy or even unethical tone. Then other people don’t think they have to follow procedures, either, and they start cutting corners. The top person can’t ask for reimbursement for anything for which they don’t have a receipt. The management team members must all use time sheets themselves, get approval for travel expenses, have their credit cards scrutinized.

    Emphasize the importance of ethics and controls at staff meetings, and demonstrate that everyone follows the rules, all the time.

    2. Define clearly who is responsible for what. It’s very common in small organizations, where not as much needs to be written down, for people to say, “I thought she was going to check the invoice.” For example, with invoices: who is responsible for checking the math? Who is responsible for approving the invoice to be paid?

    3. Physical controls. Lock it up. Computers should be locked to desks, and they should be protected with passwords. Put checks in a locked drawer. Among other abuses, there are too many cases where someone comes in and takes checks from the middle of the checkbook.

    4. If there’s cash involved — such as at a fundraiser or box office at a performance — have two people count all the cash together.

    5. Reconciling the bank statement is a very crucial step. It’s very unlikely that someone is going to steal from you and run away forever. Reconciling the bank statement means that embezzlement can’t go on for very long.

    Ideally someone other than the bookkeeper (or whoever handles the money) reconciles the bank account from an unopened statement. That’s a strong check on the person who handles the money. But in a small nonprofit there may not be a bookkeeper, and there may be only one person who does everything. In these instances someone else, such as a board member, should receive the unopened bank statement, and look it over before giving it to the bookkeeper or the sole staff person.”
    More guidelines are available from this link. http://www.blueavocado.org/content/five-internal-controls-very-small-nonprofit

    Since the late 2007 financial transparency & specificity has been difficult….see Peter Brezny’s experience here:
    http://www.ourasheville.org/071115-urtv/

    So the accusation that I’m out to destroy URTV is ridiculous…instead you might ask yourself why the need to demonize people who ask hard questions???????

  179. Davynne: I am only gonna say this once so listen up the first time through.

    I think your concerns about URTV’s financial status and your accusations of fraud/embezzlement by the ED, as per the letter you sent to City Manager Gary Jackson, were ungrounded and had they been believed by anyone, they might have destroyed URTV.

    If you really believed in URTV as a community resource, you would still be producing there and not still trying to amplify false charges of corruption. Your removal from the board did not result in any subsequent ban from producing shows there. Your accusations seemed very careless at best, and out to destroy at worst. That is just my independent position as one of your fellow producers from way back when, based on how you were quoted in the Xpress, what you wrote in that letter to the City Manager, the presentations you made at the station, & your subsequent destructive campaign work against URTV with Mr. Rosenthal.

    But this has all been hashed out ad infinitum on other threads. No need in going any further with it here. Here is my final statement to you about what I saw as your part in these matters:

    If you were simply misguided in your denigration of the Executive Director, then fine. I forgive you. If you were trying to destroy URTV, then fine, you failed. No need to get hung up on it. I am over it. I would love to see you utilizing the resource again to produce whatever show you want to produce.

  180. #1:
    I never mentioned the words “embezzlement or fraud ” in the letter I wrote to the city manager, Gary Jackson.

    #2: If you realy have no desire to hash and re-hash issues @ URTV…why did you bring it up?

    I have said, in these hard times, the City and County doesn’t need 5 or 6 tricked out TV studios. I advocated consolidating with one of the ED or Gov. channels….which might very well clear up some of the on-going issues and save money, to boot.

    Finally, I don’t need or want your “forgiveness.”

  181. “I really do think using your real name shows back bone and requires you to think more about the comments you make, as your public reputation is at stake. Hiding behind a pen name is weak, and comments by anonymous posters often exhibit that weakness.”

    I think that I am the exception to that rule, I put a lot of thought into my post and try to remain cordial. There are many who post here under there “real names” that come across as very rude and weak minded.

    What is in a name? a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.

  182. I agree, JMAC. There are plenty of posters that remain cordial thoughtful and anonymous and there some that use their real names and are often less thoughtful and occasionally mean spirited.

    Anybody actually interested in the content of the 7 page letter that Davyyne sent to City Manager Gary Jackson begging the city to investigate URTV’s Executive Director and her management of URTV’s funding and what all was implied by the author in that letter can get a copy of it from the city. It is matter of public record.

    The studios at URTV were “tricked out” long before Pat Garlinghouse arrived, under the guidance of former director Kurt Mann. The ED channel and the GOV channel are the other two PEG channels that are contracted for when a city allows a cable company to tear up its streets and wire every house in town for 800 channels of corporate distraction and mind control. Those other two channels do not do anything like URTV by way of offering the local population the access and the know-how to TV production. The idea that you could collapse them into one or even two channels in order to save money that has already been spent on equipment that is in perfect working order is an odd suggestion. The effect of such a consolidation would be a MASSIVE elimination of URTV programming, which to me qualifies as a destruction of URTV. Anyhow, the city never considered the idea a viable one, nor did the city doubt Garlinghouse’s management of URTV funds.

    5. Reconciling the bank statement is a very crucial step. It’s very unlikely that someone is going to steal from you and run away forever. Reconciling the bank statement means that embezzlement can’t go on for very long.

    Even the implication of your non-profit “primer” above is that “embezzlement” was happening at URTV. The word is used in bullet point 5. Your word, not mine. Generally when people start to speculate publically that something is wrong with the books, they are in effect casting a major aspersion about ethical behavior of the book keeper. This was baseless speculation on your part and it almost had a very damaging effect. But we made it through and all is well.

    I accept your rejection of my forgiveness, Davynne. I bear no hard feelings. As I said, I feel quite sure you are welcome to return to URTV, pay your membership dues and produce another show anytime you like.

    Now, when you say “there goes the neighborhood” about the Global Report, which happens to be one of the many shows produced at URTV, I can’t help but wonder if your real motivation to destroy URTV had something to do with some of the content being produced at there. Would you like to answer my questions that I put to you above about the “citizen journalism” of the Global Report. What do you have against them?

  183. For the record, this will be my last response to DCJ…on the particular subject of URTV. It’s not right to usurp a thread into something personal.

    So David, it appears you are the latest “hitman” for a certain person, who manipulates very well behind the scenes and has others do the dirty work. You are the latest in a long string of designated hitmen & women. If it isn’t apparent by now that I don’t turn tail and run, it never will be.

    As for the seven page letter you mentioned. I was asked to write that letter by Bill Russell who was the liaison to URTV back last February. Any one who wishes to read my concerns is welcome to email me. I’ll be happy to forward you a copy. That will be much easier than trecking down to city hall.

    On the subject of URTV, consider me field dressed and hanging. I have no interest in continuing the Davyne and David show. lol

  184. Davynne, if anyone looks at the 5 items you posted to this thread above regarding “the proper functioning of a non-profit,” they will plainly see that at the rhetorical heart of each enumerated point is your concern about embezzlement, theft or fraud when it comes to managing the finances of such an organization. Nothing in your post above is about how “to save money” for the city in these “tough economic times” by collapsing the three stations into one. No, the concern there is about people authorized with the keys and the checkbooks being dishonest and robbing some already very limited coffers.

    I am not a hired gun from New Jersey brought down to live for a month in Buncombe county and trump up extreme charges of pedophilia and other baseless claims about URTV members, as your friend Mr Rosenthal did, before David Gantt shut him down and sent him packing from a county commissioners meeting. I am just someone with an interest in seeing the station survive for those that enjoy learning to use the medium.

    I would very much like to call your bluff on that offer to email the City Manager letter. I want to compare what you send out with the copy I got from Gary Jackson and make sure we are talking about the same letter here. My email address is: dcj@halcyonpro.com

    (I will be sure to report back here after I have fact-checked it, should I discover that you are not sending out the letter I am referring to.)

    Now, if you want to get away from this “personal issue,” and back to the idea of Citizen Journalism in our community, Davynne, I would love to hear more about what you meant by “there goes the neighborhood” when you referred to The Global Report above. What is your criticism of their endeavor to cut through the clutter that passes for “journalism” in this dark day and age?

  185. “Davynne, if anyone looks at the 5 items you posted to this thread above
    regarding “the proper functioning of a non-profit,”

    Sorry, David, what part of checks and balances do you not understand? The items on that posting are established guidelines for ANY board member who takes their duty to fiduciary oversight, seriously. What you’re saying here, is the laws imply all are criminal….when what the law is really about is prosecuting those who fail to follow the law, and to serve as a deterrent. James Madison’s famous quote from the Federalist papers: “If all men were angels there would be no need laws much less for government,” applies to all of humanity…it’s nothing personal

    Now this statement of yours is downright laughable: (I will be sure to report back here after I have fact-checked it, should I discover that you are not sending out the letter I am referring to.)

    I’ve missed the edict that came down from God knows where, appointing you my gate keeper.

    Now go ahead…. you have your last word….I’ve had mine

  186. DD, I don’t want to be your gatekeeper, and really you should not consider the public request any kind of aspersion regarding your honesty. I would never dream of accusing you of engaging in some kind of fraud. I just want to see what you are offering to send out to anyone on the list that is interested. I am on this list. I am interested. Are you going back on your word here? Consider it a form of “checks and balances.” I want to check it out, & be sure its on balance. You have the email address, zap it to me already.

    Now that we are done with the URTV interlude, what’s your criticism of the “citizen journalism” of the Global Report?

  187. Barry Summers

    Now that we are done with the URTV interlude, what’s your criticism of the “citizen journalism” of the Global Report?

    No fluff, weather, human interest stories, sports, commercials, propaganda, or corporate-funded video news releases.

    Oh wait – I guess that’s not really criticism…

  188. Right. All you need to do is flip over to any one of your 800 digital cable channels and you got all the fluff, weather, human interest stories, sports, commercials, propaganda, & corporate-funded video “news” releases that you will ever need in order to keep your head buried deep in that synthetic sand.

  189. Barry Summers

    Damn, DCJ. The world sucks, dude. I need my synthetic sand.

    BTW, I’m a glass artist. I use a lot of frit, which is finely ground glass – synthetic sand, if you will…

  190. Barry Summers

    I am all for popping a blow torch on some synthetic sand …

    Actually, I use a kiln. I learned early in life that I am flammable. I’ll leave the torches to the daredevils and the angry mobs…

    Actually, this tangent isn’t entirely off-topic, at least for me. After a lot of time doing activism & ‘journalism’ at WPVM, I decided to put more energy into my creative life. The piece I’m currently working on is essentially a giant (18″) eye, with reflected images fired onto the top layer of glass – the working title is “Sight Sear”. Sort of looks like my avatar up there, now that I think of it.

    It’s ‘citizen journalism’ rendered in fused glass. Wasn’t my intention when I started playing in the studio, it just drifted this direction…

  191. “It’s ‘citizen journalism’ rendered in fused glass. Wasn’t my intention when I started playing in the studio, it just drifted this direction…”
    It’s always magical when those happy accidents evolve into real expression…Part of the mystery of creativity…and the real goal of an artisan.

    I like the visual imagery your describing in the work. Like happens with open dialog, people speak from their point of view, as every one speaks we get the complete picture…not just one little corner view.

  192. I’ve missed the edict that came down from God knows where, appointing you my gate keeper.

    It’s not an edict. It is all part of the brave new world of citizen journalism. You offered to share some information. I offered to look into it.

    What gives?

  193. What, Davynne, you couldn’t build a case for pedophilia, or embezzelment? (You are slipping.) It’s called a DUI. Unfortunately, it is a very common offense around here. I got that DUI the night of Obama’s final presidential debate back in October of 2008. We played a drinking game. Anytime anyone during the debate mentioned “Joe the Plumber,” we had to drink. Later in the night, after boiling in a hot tub with friends for over an hour, I became very tired and a little disoriented, partly because of the alcohol, partly because of the effect of the hot tub combined with the alcohol and partly because I was realizing that we were going to elect yet another phony liberal president to office for 8 more years. It was at that point that I made a terrible error in judgement: I tried to drive home from my friend’s house atop town mountain. Within minutes I drove off the side of the mountain and totaled the car. A real miracle that I was unharmed and didn’t harm anyone else. (I missed a 3 ft wide oak tree by 3 feet!) Refused to blow in the breathalyzer. Automatic DUI. 1 Years suspension of driver’s license. But I am happy to report to you, School Marm O Mine, that I have cleaned up my act. I have been clean & sober sense October of 2008. Never felt healthier! Never felt clearer in my thoughts! (I recommend such a hiatus for anyone who is getting deep in his or her cups. Even if it is only a temporary break.)

    Now … about your letter to the city manager, which you claim does not attempt to destroy Pat’s career with apsersions of embezzlement … you have offered to send it out. When are you going to send it to me? Is there any reason you won’t? You have my email address. (Not to mention my internet police record.) What gives?

  194. Barry Summers

    Davyne, I’m sorely disappointed. This is low. I had a brief experience corresponding with you during the WPVM/URTV debacles. That ended when I found that you were forwarding my confidential emails to your private investigator friend without my consent. I chose not to make a big deal out of it – I simply chose to go my own way & let you go yours.

    Now, I find that I was right not to get too closely involved with you. Breaching David’s privacy and attempting to embarrass him in public, simply to try to rack up points in some spat you’re having with him? You show a shocking lack of ethics and propriety. Shame on you.

  195. Barry,

    If you were privvy to the underhanded actions going on behind the scenes …you’d understand more clearly.

  196. Barry Summers

    I am not interested in whatever behind-the-scenes escapades that you think justifies turning this thread into a crap-slinging contest. There is no excuse for simply throwing out to the world:

    “Hey! Everybody, look – DCJ has a record! No, no context or explanation, just look at him! He’s guilty of something! Let’s imagine the worst, and ignore the awkward questions he’s raising about my own conduct…”

    He’s been forced by you to publicly explain a simple mistake, an unfortunate incident in his past, and to his credit, he doesn’t seem sufficiently embarrassed to shut up like you’d prefer. Now I’m really curious – why won’t you release that letter, like he keeps asking?

    BTW, before anyone tries to out me, I have a record as well. On the day the Iraq war started, I was arrested for, and later plead guilty to… jaywalking.

    And I’d do it again!

    Now, what’s up with that letter?

  197. Barry, everybody I know and care about knows I got that DUI. Now everybody I don’t know that lurks here will know as well. It really doesn’t bother me at all. Everybody makes mistakes. I am very lucky that my mistake did not harm anyone and that it lead me to finally do something I had been thinking was a good idea for me personally, which was to stop drinking for a spell. I am sure Davynne doesn’t know anybody else with a DUI on their record, or even a drinking problem, so she feels quite comfortable in pointing the finger at me. (But usually when someone points a finger at someone else, it is important to note that the other three are pointing back at them. And when somebody chooses to sling crap, often they are the ones left standing with mud on their face. As is clearly the case here.)

    You can ask Davynne to share that URTV attack letter with you, Barry, but I doubt she will make good on her claim above to actually send you the groundless letter. Send her your email and see if it comes through. If she does actually make good & send you a copy, bump it over to me and I will check it against my hard copy from City Manager Gary Jackson. I think it will become very clear who has been doing underhanded things behind the scenes. I can also share with you some underhanded URTV attack literature that the curious Mr Rosenthal authored and sent to City Council and County Commission, before he was sent back to New Jersey by a wise County Commissioner who had a little chat with him in a closed session.

    Indeed, the whole point of this tangent – which is actually quite related to the article at hand – is about Citizen Journalism and local issues and the potential abuse of the press by citizens with ulterior motives. My goal has been to bring the very underhanded tactics Davynne is referring to out into the open. I am glad to see Davynne exposing more of her true colors here today. The weak move is to attack someone’s character, instead of addressing the points of their argument. This is a classic smear tactic, and is very easy to see through. What Davynne does not seem to realize is that unlike traditional one way mediums – like TV and news print and radio – such a tactic is easily exposed in this ongoing dialogue form, so championed by the internet. Anything Davynne cares to write about me here, I am quite prepared to address in full. Instead of making good on her offer to share a letter that she wrote in an effort to shut down URTV – the public resource she pretends to care about – she has decided to attack me personally about some other area of my life. But what she doesn’t seem to get is that now she has made herself look bad on two counts and not just one: (1) She has gone back on her word to email the City Manager letter to anyone on this blog that is interested in reading it, and (2) she has chosen to attack me personally instead of my arguments. By doing this publicly, she is destroying her potential credibility as a future “Citizen Journalist,” which is fine by me. She is also burning her bridges as she attempts to build an anti-progressive network here in town. (I mean, she just burned her WPVM bridge to Barry with a two sentence attempt at character assassination.)

  198. An interesting aspect of social media (including blogging and comment threads like the present one) and, as well, the massive data collection that is going on everywhere (Google, Facebook, Bing, Amazon, Yahoo, etc. in no particular order) is the way privacy is changing.

    DCJ’s “dirty” laundry has been brought up here, but he acknowledges that the people who matter to him already knew, and now more know. But this isn’t something in isolation. All of our stuff is more on display, more or less, depending on everything from personal honesty in our posts to court records to credit records to accidentally forwarded e-mails.

    I suspect we are shifting the frame. It’s harder to extort with embarrassing information, for example, if one is no longer embarrassed by the information. If Tiger had been out about his playboy life from the start it would have never been a P.R. problem. (This apart from the obvious marriage problem.) The kids who are posting about their partying, their interpersonal squabbles, their sexual experimentation, may have some problems with job applications …. for a while. But the walls of privacy are tumbling.

    And I mention all this, because I believe it too is part of the new environment of citizen journalism.

  199. Barry Summers

    …it lead me to finally do something I had been thinking was a good idea for me personally, which was to stop drinking for a spell.

    Good for you – I’m sober 2 years, 3 months, and 11 days. I also stopped drinking just ‘for a spell’, but I haven’t felt a real need to start again, so I don’t.

    The weak move is to attack someone’s character, instead of addressing the points of their argument.

    Exactly. Whatever merit Davyne’s case may have had just got weaker by her dragging out something irrelevant about you as a distraction. I haven’t been involved at all in the URTV situation, so I try not to judge without knowing all the facts. But the direction and character of the mudslinging from various people has an effect…

    Indeed, the whole point of this tangent – which is actually quite related to the article at hand – is about Citizen Journalism and local issues and the potential abuse of the press by citizens with ulterior motives.

    I hope everyone at MtnX is paying attention to this thread, and to the potential pitfalls they are facing in the ‘Citizen Journalism’ front. Here is a small example of the kind of U-turn a discussion can take when all who are involved are relatively sincere albeit misguided or at worst hiding part of their agenda – imagine the damage that could be done by someone going in with a deliberate, calculated strategy of deceit and maliciousness.

  200. I am a huge fan of free speech and telling the truth, so I don’t really see any pitfalls here. I try to live my life in such a manner that I don’t have too much to hide. That said, I think that privacy surely has its merits. Cecil is correct that this former mainstay of citizenship is fast eroding. What will that do to our national character, I can’t say. However, it is pretty easy to see through people that feel the need to hire private investigators/hit men to help them do their dirty work at the local level.

    As a citizen journalist who has long been investigating last year’s very intense public attack on URTV in the local press and at City Hall and in City Council and the County Commission, an attack in large part orchestrated by Davynne Dial, I would be very interested to hear more about your experiences with her betrayal of your confidence as she fwded your emails to her private investigator/professional muckraker from New Jersey, Mr. Rosenthal, and consider what effect those actions may have had. (Of course, you can email your thoughts on this matter off list.)

  201. Barry, if you were privvy to the underhanded actions going on behind the scenes …you’d understand more clearly.

    How exposing my 2008 DUI has anything to do with clearing anything up about the “underhanded tactics going on behind the scenes” at URTV is beyond me. Though it certainly does make us all quite “privy” to the level that Davynne has been willing to stoop from the get-go in her personal crusade against URTV and its members/supporters.

    I really am curious as to why Davynne disdains URTV so much. It can’t just be because the award-winning Global Report is produced there. It seems like a long way to go “to save your neighborhood.” If you don’t like what is on URTV, simply change the channel to one of the 800 corporately owned stations. I can assure that there are far more offensive programs available for you to watch out there in TV Land than a local progressive effort to make people more aware of what is happening to poor people the world over at the hands of U.S. military-industrial might gone wrong.

    (What’s up, DD? Why all the hate for URTV and The Global Report?)

  202. Jeff Fobes/Jon Elliston:

    I understand that an entire page recapping under-reported National and International news stories might be a bit much to ask of our local weekly.

    How about a locally written commentary on ONE under-reported National or International story a week. I will write it and cite my sources as Elliston does when he ties local issues into national media issues, as he did with Tiger story and the greater YouTube story.

    As far as your locally written commentaries go, there is absolutely nothing particularly local about what Edgy Mama is writing. She could be writing about her kids and her cats in New Jersey or Nebraska. Nothing particularly local about her content at all. Nor with this week’s commentary about what to do with the post-holiday blues and how to handle taking down the Xmas tree. That issue is a universal one, probably occurring wherever people celebrate Xmas. Nothing local about it except that it was written by a local. I am sure people are just as bummed about Xmas being over and leaving people in the dark in Oregon as they are in WNC. Hell, I will write a commentary on what to do with your pre-holiday blues! How to cope with your depression about all the phony expectations everyone puts on the yuletide season and how the real cheer of it all has been lost all but destroyed by rampant, materialism. (I know, Davynne: “There goes the neighborhood, again!”)

    Whaddya say? Pretty good idea, no? I am already on last years books as a freelance writer for the Xpress. You published two of my pieces about local bands, Jar-e and Mind vs Target!. Give me a word count and I will bang out some commentary for you. I will double up each week and you can choose whichever one you prefer to run with.

    I am sure I can work within your parameters.

  203. WhatWeTalkAboutWhenWeTalkAboutCitizenJournalism

    Goodness, when I saw that comments in this section were leading the Hot Topics of the Month list, I thought I’d better check back in. But its place on the list is misleading: It’s still the David and Barry Show, with special guest appearances from Davnye and cameos from Cecil Bothwell.

    As you move towards greater reliance on “citizen journalism” and collaborative/social media like twitter and blogs, I hope you’re keeping up with the newest thinking. See John Tierney’s “The Madness of Crowds and an Internet Delusion” (www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/science/12tier.html):

    “[Jaron ]Lanier, a musician and avant-garde computer scientist – he popularized the term ‘virtual reality’ – wonders if the Web’s structure and ideology are fostering nasty group dynamics and mediocre collaborations. His new book, ‘You Are Not a Gadget,’ is a manifesto against ‘hive thinking’ and ‘digital Maoism’ . . .”
    If I were an editor and publisher, I would be worried about “mediocre collaborations.”

    And “Nasty group dynamics” quickly comes into play in your Forums and Comments section. You’re still trying to figure that one out. Maybe Lanier has some ideas for you.

  204. Eli Cohen

    David, it seems to me, that your time would be better spent cleaning up your own act, not playing school marm at me.

    http://webapps6.doc.state.nc.us/opi/viewoffender.do?method=view&offenderID=1120204&searchLastName=jones

    What we have here is a good argument for the use of screen names. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that instead of outing mild mannered David for a DUI, she exposes a violent felon (with a twenty five year old conviction and incarceration record) who subsequently loses his job, house, wife and children, falls back on his old ways.(drugs, alcohol, violent crime) Perhaps this person decides to get some payback…Who you gonna sue?

  205. Well, WhatWeTalkAboutWhenWeActuallyChooseToTalk, you must not have done much research on the dynamics of how a thread reaches a coveted spot on the “Hot Topics” list. It is usually the result of 2 or 3 maybe 4 citizens deciding to actually continue responding to one another’s thoughts and ideas on a given thread. Framing the attempts at dialogue here as being a particular citizen’s “show” seems like an unfair mischaracterization to me. (It seems like a tacit “shut up, already” too.)

    This is not a TV studio with a single host who chooses the guests, who chooses who can chime in at any given moment, it’s the internet. Anyone can chime in with a thought or observation or a link to a related article and rescue the flagging display of wit by steering the conversation back to the subject at hand, as you have just done. Thanks for participating and not just remaining a “spectator.” (Course there is nothing wrong with simply witnessing/appreciating things without feeling the need to participate, be it an Op/Ed piece or a symphony.)

    And if you had been paying attention here, you would know that the claims of Tierney/Lanier’s NYT piece, the newest “thinking” about the “downside” of the internet, really are not all that new.

    [Lanier] blames the Web’s tradition of “drive-by anonymity” for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks.

    The NYT article was published on January 11th, a week and half after I had been saying the same thing here on my little “show” at the Xpress comment blog. Check this thread again: I have said time and time again here that anonymity on the web, as far citizenship and “citizen journalism” goes, is much more often abused than not, much more a liability than a boon. Others have said as much on other Xpress threads in the past.

    Now, maybe it only qualifies as “thinking” in your mind because it was the New York Times gatekeeper that chose to publish it, whereas the very same thinking here is only being evidenced in our local rag and so it really doesn’t matter. Keep looking to that horsecock of an island up north for your cues, if you must. I say we have plenty of great thinkers right here in The Land of The Sky. “Local Matters.”

    Of course, I can see how you might have missed out on some of the thinking going on here. After all, you are flitting here and there in cyberspace, apparently not reading anything with much careful attention – another downside of the internet. A cursory “checking in” every now and again with what is gaining popularity is not the same thing as really paying attention.

    Regarding “mediocrity,” let’s look at the NYT’s choice of interviewees, the genius Jarron Lanier, and survey his latest offerings, cultural and critical:

    http://www.amazon.com/Proof-of-Consciousness/dp/B0033ZP52W/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1263402842&sr=8-2

    Innocuous album title and highly derivative Max Ernst cover art aside, the pieces are … likeable … if you like the ambient genius of Brian Eno, which I do. If you are familiar with Eno’s work, you will see/hear that Lanier’s forays are not very original, but that is ok. I happen to like rocakbilly music. Many of those cats all sounded the same back in the day, but if you are there to dance, get drunk and get laid – and you are NOT busy geeking out in a corner, twittering ABOUT the sock-hop that you are NOT participating in, then who cares if you have heard it all before, as long as it’s got a beat and you can bug out to it, it’s golden for the time. In Jarron’s case above, if your goal is to do a bong-hit and space-out on some novel ambient sonar for an hour, mission accomplished. Even though it isn’t particularly original, you could do far worse as you set your controls for the heart of the sun. (I play unoriginal music all the time … it is great fun … I am not knocking personal expression or creativity here.)

    Now lets’ take a look at Jarron’s book:

    http://www.jaronlanier.com/

    Like his album above, “Proof-of-Consciousness”, the title of the book “You are not a gadget” is, well, a no brainer. Let’s just say if you are reading the book it proves that you are not actually a gadget. Just like if you are listening to his album, it proves that at least one of your five senses is still functioning and you are, in the most basic sense of the idea, still “conscious.” All kidding aside, I think the book probably has some merit, from what little I read of it. People that are still glued to the TV, and/or constantly twittering/texting their days away and/or choose to read magazines like Esquire and Maxim and Rolling Stone, probably very much need to be reminded that they are not in fact a “gadget.” It really is not a bad message … for colonized mannequins and robots.

    Back to the subject at hand: I do agree with much of what was written in the Times piece you linked us to, WWTAWWTACJ – if that is your real name. It just isn’t a very new set of thoughts, at least not to me.

    I think the verbal (written) expression of wit and ridicule, the twitter versions of the longer form of satire, once venerated social aspects of our long lost Western tradition, have been lost to us in large part thanks to the crushing 60 year dominance of the globalizing medium of image-oriented television. I think it is a perfectly fine thing to revive wit/ridicule/satire as they discuss/debate topics at hand here on local portal on the internets. Sure, people are going to fly off the handle and post other people’s police records when their intelligence fails them in a moment of frustration, but that is par for the brave new course. We are just coming out of a dark age of 60 years of sleepy non-participatory TV spectatorship. Give us a chance to get our bearings here. More people are reading and writing about events and ideas online than they have been in a long long while. That’s a good thing, even if it gets snarky from time to time.

    In this sense, I praise Jeff and Jon’s vision here for recognizing the shift that is happening and trying to emphasize it in regards to the democratization of media at the local level. I still do not think much of Twitter, though. I do not think much in depth journalism can happen when you are limited to 125 characters and publishing on the fly. If you are busy publishing in the moment, how can you really be in the moment? (Call me a traditionalist.) I think this technology is going to further dice the flow of experience. The quality of experience is what informs one’s intelligence. How can you really be grounded anywhere in space and time if you are constantly typing into a Blackberry or IPhone? Like the perennial presence of TV before it, compact, mobile Twitter capacity is not only limiting in the amount you can express in a given burst, it is also limiting one’s consciousness/presence by further fostering a constant state of distraction in order to say very little at any given time.

    “Be Here Now.”

  206. “You hired a private investigator by the name of Mr. Rosenthal to come down from New Jersey and begin attacking URTV at City Council and County Commissioner meetings for you through a carefully orchestrated negative PR campaign. Unfortunately for you, Davynne, Rosenthal was using your return address as he projected some of this continuing negative PR campaign. David Gant certainly showed some intestinal fortitude at the county level when he sent your private investigator/professional muckraker Rosenthal back to New Jersey, with a few choice words.”

    Why would I need to go to New Jersey to hire an investigator???? There are plenty here. That is la la-land delusional. Besides one doesn’t need to hire a detective to pick up on the many, many blatant instances of non-compliance of the management agreement, open meeting laws and statutes governing publicly funded non-profit’s which URTV is. The new 90 day management agreement from the City puts URTV & the BOD on notice that is still being watched very closely.

    BUT even if I had hired an investigator to review shenanigans @ URTV…that’s not against the law. Lying to the DA, about being threatened and physically assualted is against the law. And the individual who accompanied the liar into the DA’s office is complicit, too.

  207. If anybody really wants to witness my continued “flaying and dressing” of Cruella Davyial on all things URTV, they can check in on this Xpress thread for the latest horsewhipping:

    http://www.mountainx.com/opinion/2007/once_again_xpress_coverage_of_mainwpvm_misleads/

    As far as trying to remain on topic here goes, I just read an interesting article in The Nation about the potential for future government subsidies for journalism. Given that Fobes just announced an across the board 15% pay cut for ALL Xpress staff, I wonder if this solution might be one that the Xpress would welcome/support/seek.

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100125/nichols_mcchesney

    I am generally not a fan of government subsidy, but the arguments McChesney makes here are compelling.

  208. Also read a piece by the above cited genius Jarron Lanier in this past week’s Harper’s Magazine. It is a synopsis of his above lambasted book, “You are not a gadget.”

    Lanier’s gist, as I suspected, was that social networking websites, like Facebook and Myspace, are a terrible reductive colonization of identity that ultimately thwart the development and refinement of human identity, rather than promote it. They trounce human individuality as they amplify peer-pressure/herd instinct tendencies of juvenile self-understanding. They reduce human interaction online to a process of glib self-promotion and subvert “discourse” into the service of advertising.

    Warning: Lanier appears to be a big fan of the semantic aerobatics of “critical theory” and employs all the usual postmodern jargon, which I find to be a load of tripe. (He loves to use the word “decontextualized.”)

    In a nutshell, I agree with him: Facebook and Myspace are ultimately destroying the quality of real time human relationships and are therefore bad for developing [sic] children and teens.

  209. Jon Elliston

    David wrote: “Fobes just announced an across the board 15% pay cut for ALL Xpress staff”

    That didn’t happen; where did you hear that?

  210. Jon Elliston

    Thank you, Davyne, we’re received your message and have responded to your e-mail

  211. Jon Elliston

    Dear readers,

    Effectively immediately, we’re requiring that all posts on this thread stay on topic; which is to say, please don’t post any more messages about the URTV situation, for example. Any posts that go up on that topic will be taken down, and anyone who posts on that topic will be placed in a moderation queue for a period of a month.

    The same goes for name-callers; for example, don’t call anyone names like “Cruella Davyial.”

    David and Davyne, please desist from pestering each other and making allegations. To cool things off a bit, we’re placing you both in moderation for a period of one month; if you can “play nice” during that period, we’ll switch you back to unmoderated.

    Thank you, and please report off-topic posters via e-mail to xpress [at] mountainx.com.

    Jon Elliston, managing editor

  212. Jon, I read that bit about an “across the board pay cut” in the Xpress a few weeks back, at the turn of the year. It was brief article /interview with Fobes by I believe Jason Sandford. (My girlfriend read it aloud to me.)

    I am very glad to see that you have implemented my “time out” suggestion and am fine being one of the first people to be put in time out. I am glad to be a part of progress at the Xpress, even if it is in the role of villain!

    (What does TOS mean?)

  213. Jon Elliston

    Hi David,

    Thanks much for your understanding (and for dialoguing with us, for that matter).

    Regarding the Xpress pay cuts, it appears that you were read an article from a year ago, when we made 5% cuts (not 15%). Sorry for any confusion on that front.

    And TOS means Terms of Service.

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