“No matter which side of an issue you support … you can rely on Mountain Xpress for accuracy, balance and fairness. … It’s been a decade of true community service.”
— former Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick
It’s been 10 years since the premiere issue of Mountain Xpress hit the streets. The phrase “Weekly Independent News, Arts & Events for Western North Carolina” first graced the cover on Aug. 10, 1994.
And 10 years after founder Jeff Fobes and a scrappy band of journalists, artists and jacks-of-all-trades decided to swap sleep for the Spartan world of newspaper publishing on a shoestring, Xpress is still shining a spotlight on the issues and events that help shape the lives of the folks who call WNC home. Of course, it’s our home too, and that fact has always been a source of pride and purpose for those of us who help put this paper together.
We’d like to think it gives us the edge over the kind of mass-produced journalism served up by corporate chains. And judging by the paper’s growth in readership over the years, we suspect that some of you just might agree.
The cover of that inaugural issue depicted a bug-eyed cartoon bunny firing up a hash pipe. The image was a grainy freeze-frame from an anti-drug video shown in local schools as part of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, the target of our first cover story. “Truth or DARE” shared some unsettling facts about the program’s efficacy — including research that showed DARE graduates were actually more likely to use drugs. The provocative cover and accompanying story raised more than a few eyebrows around town, but they also made it crystal clear that Xpress intended to shake things up.
From the very beginning, Xpress readers found that they, too, had a role to play in shaping the paper. The letters-and-commentary pages quickly established themselves as a lively forum for community dialogue on local issues, with folks weighing in from diverse points on the political spectrum.
And for years, the paper has featured in-depth coverage of local government, doggedly reporting on the doings of the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in an attempt to shift important decisions from the shade of the backroom into the light of public scrutiny. From the protracted evolution of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance to the marathon hearings on whether to allow Wal-Mart to set up shop at the former Sayles-Biltmore Bleacheries to issue-driven election coverage, Xpress earned a reputation for detailed, thoughtful, accurate reporting. That kind of go-beyond-the-headlines journalism has helped set Xpress apart from other local news media.
This continuing commitment has helped clear the air on many issues. “An Agency Gone Awry” was one of our headlines when we first started regularly covering the meetings of the Western North Carolina Regional Air Pollution Control Agency (now the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency). Back then, concerned citizens complained that this independent entity was crippled by corruption and inaction. Seven years and more than 50 headlines later, air quality still tops the list of WNC residents’ concerns. But thanks to the spotlight we’ve kept firmly fixed on the dramatic struggle to reform the agency, it’s now earning such decidedly more heroic headlines as “David and Goliath.”
And despite being regularly skewered by the wicked pen of political cartoonist Randy Molton, local politicians have some pretty nice things to say about Xpress turning 10.
Former Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick offered birthday wishes, noting, “No matter which side of an issue you support, one thing is for sure: You can rely on Mountain Xpress for accuracy, balance and fairness. It’s a true gift to its subjects and its readers; it’s been a decade of true community service.”
And current Asheville Mayor Charles Worley had this to say: “Ten years is a definite indication of success. What I’ve always admired is the thoroughness of coverage of local issues. When it comes to the Buncombe County Commissioners, the Asheville City Council and other boards, the coverage is the most extensive and most accurate you can find.”
Of course, some local politicians have been less encouraging. In the course of our continuing coverage of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Bobby Medford has responded to Xpress reporters’ probing questions with threats of prosecution. Medford’s ruffled feathers may reflect his discomfort with Xpress stories that reported his brandishing a shotgun during a peaceful protest, enlisting 407 auxiliary deputies (when the national average is 24), and refusing to investigate a domestic-violence case involving his own son. The latter story, “Buncombe Justice on Trial” (June 18, 2003 Xpress) netted the paper and author Cecil Bothwell a national award for investigative journalism.
Xpress has also helped focus attention on the area’s exceptionally rich, diverse cultural life (see “Facing the Music”). Each week, readers across the region look to this paper to help them take advantage of WNC’s remarkable arts-and-entertainment scene.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but it has been rewarding knowing that so many local folks turn to Xpress to satisfy their hunger for the latest on this lovely, quirky, inspiring place we all call home. So we intend to keep at it — and to keep it homemade, just the way our readers like it.