With the approach of Bele Chere, Ashevilleans have once again taken up one of their favorite pastimes: debating the benefits and drawbacks of hosting the biggest free street festival in the Southeast. Last week, Xpress staffer David Forbes provided a forum for readers to vent with his online post "Bele Chere: Boon or Burden?"
In the blog, Forbes writes about Asheville's love/hate relationship with the fest, saying he's "heard no small amount of local vitriol directed at the three-day event, for reasons economic, cultural and visceral." Noting that an informal poll of his Xpress office mates had resulted in a split decision, Forbes then invited readers to weigh in.
The post generated a huge response, with readers expressing views all over the spectrum.
"Bele Chere helps make Asheville distinctive, our own little Mardi Gras," wrote Betty Cloer Wallace. "Thousands of people come because they like it. Some things might be improved, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s continue to try to keep it varied, to offer something for everyone."
Reader "penelope" offered a more critical take.
"I’m so over Bele Chere, and I have been for years. I avoid Asheville at all costs during this weekend, which is my birthday weekend," she wrote. "I had contacted two downtown businesses about holding a birthday party, but when I realized it was Bele Chere weekend I quickly changed my mind.
"The festival has gotten too big and too expensive to be fun anymore. Once again what was once our town has been surrendered to the tourists!"
Expressing a more Zen-like view of the event was "maggie1."
"Bele Chere is in the eye of the beholder," she opined.
Another internal Xpress debate that came into the public's online eye last week concerned the evolving role of the outlet’s Twitter feed. In a blog post, Publisher Jeff Fobes asked, "Is it OK to Cut Up on the MXNews Twitter Account?"
In the piece, Fobes asked readers what they thought of Xpress reporter Michael Muller's new Saturday and Wednesday dispatches, an experiment in new media in which "for a few hours the gravitas of news turns zany."
Readers responded in force, with reactions ranging from extremely supportive to strongly disapproving.
"I think Michael’s tweets add a lot of local color to the feed, and I often find myself LOLing," commented Josh Benson.
"I feel like the folks @mxnews are my neighbors and fellow members of the community I love. Rather than being some sequestered news monks, they get out and enjoy the community and share it with all of us, and I love that," added "@sthrnfrydpinko."
On the more critical side, "megan" wrote that she thinks "It's HORRIBLE.
"I don’t need to see ‘dundundun’ as a Tweet. What a waste of space. … Make it stop!"
And "Jake the Snake" went so far as to express disgust with eccentric feeds.
"Wait for Michael Muller to start one of his ‘funny’ morning diarrhea twitter storms. … You can literally watch followers drop off until it ends (usually with some drunken nonsense)," he wrote.
Former Xpress Multimedia Editor (and current Asheville Citizen-Times staffer) Jason Sandford also jumped into the fray, writing highly critical pieces for both his Ashevegas blog and the daily paper’s print edition.
In his Ashevegas post, "As Over-the-Top Tweets Keep Flying, Mountain Xpress Debates What's Appropriate for its Twitter News Feed," Sandford wrote, "By mixing banal sexual innuendo and adolescent insults in with its news feed, Xpress is slowly and surely killing its credibility as a news outlet."
And though he took a slightly less harsh tone in the AC-T column "How Social Should Media be on Twitter?" he implored Xpress to "stick to the news" on its feed, asserting that "Reporters killing time with slicing Twitter retorts might miss the news they're supposed to be trafficking in."
Several commenters wrote in to agree with Sandford, but he also attracted his own fair share of critics.
"This smells kinda like a publicity stunt by jealous AC-T reporters who lack the creativity and wit of Mr. Muller, and instead of trying to find a creative solution to their lack of creativity have decided to throw a temper tantrum," retorted "shadmarsh PhD," adding, "Aren’t we always celebrating the uniqueness of Asheville? Why try and quash one of its genuine original voices?”
Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.