2012’s greatest hits: The year’s top news and opinion stories

Xpress readers may have been parked in front of their computers, but they had their eyes on the sky. The blog post titled “Our Planet — A Unique View of a Truly Special Place!” received more hits than any other article on mountainx.com this year. It featured stunning imagery of the Earth from one of NASA’s newest satellites, the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (see above).

Besides collecting images, the satellite gathers data intended to improve weather forecasts and scientists’ understanding of climate change, said writer Pamela McCown, who coordinates A-B Tech’s Institute for Climate Education. Her post was one of many contributions for Xpress that explored weather and climate related issues.

Here’s a look at some of the other most viewed stories on the Xpress website this year, divided by category.

Hot news

Topping the list of popular news blogs was “Buncombe GOP Tables Security Amendment, Moves to Kick Yelton Off Committee.” The post was one in a series by staff reporter Jake Frankel revealing tensions within the Buncombe County Republican Party.

A small but vocal group of longtime GOP leaders blamed party Chair Henry Mitchell for grievances including local voters rejecting Amendment One (which passed overwhelmingly statewide) and approving a sales-tax increase last year. However, the vast majority of the party’s Executive Committee supported Mitchell and his move to strip longtime conservative activist Don Yelton (one of Mitchell’s harshest critics) of his responsibilities as precinct chair.

Mitchell later won praise for helping the party’s candidates make big gains on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, as well as in local races for the Statehouse and Congress.

The second-most-viewed news story was also penned by McCown: “Venus in Transit: A Rare Event Gives Us Some Perspective.” Using images and info graphics to illustrate the scale of the phenomenon, she reported that on June 5 Venus visibly passed in front of the sun.

“Life is crazy busy, I know,” she wrote. “We get so focused on daily activities that we often forget what a wondrous and amazingly large universe we live in. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of that reality and it never fails to leave us awestruck.”

The third-most-viewed story was “Ballots in Question for 1,000 Registered Voters at Warren Wilson College.” Frankel’s story broke the news that confusion over new district boundaries was creating big problems for local election officials and voters at the school. Posted just a few days before the Nov. 6 election, the story generated national attention on social network news site, Reddit, and helped spawn stories in other media outlets across the region and state.

Since then, questions about ballots given to Warren Wilson residents have remained in the forefront, with District 2 Republican candidate Christina Kelley G. Merrill mounting a series of legal challenges charging that some of the school’s residents were improperly allowed to vote in the district. The courts will eventually decide the election outcome, determining which party holds a majority on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

Well-read opinions

The most popular opinion piece was written by guest contributor Sarah Zambon, a local delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. She updated the post throughout the week with dispatches from the event as it unfolded. “I believe in this president, and I support the decisions he has made the last four years on health care, women’s rights, foreign policy and the economy,” she wrote in “Live From Charlotte: Local Delegate Sarah Zambon Sends Dispatches From the DNC.” Taking part in the September marathon of speeches, meetings and parties, Zambon wrote, was “an exhilarating and exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally.”

The second-most-viewed opinion offering came from Xpress staff photographer Max Cooper, who shared his misgivings about covering the local GoTopless rally in August. Cooper’s keen photos and observations about last year’s rally got the attention of the Xpress editors, who later hired him.

This time, however, he fretted in “Argus: Covering Boobfest” that the event would “illustrate the power of photography to alter — or reinforce — the behavior of the subject. If the feedback loop of sexual expression, condemnation and media attention continues every year, we will one day reach a point where we can’t be friends afterward. All for what? Some boobs?” he added. “So I wonder if this is really the place for a responsible photojournalist. But then, if a journalist isn’t willing to report from an uncomfortable place, what good is he?”

In another thought-provoking article, “Foie Gras Ban a Waste of Energy,” guest writer Jonathan Ammons responded to an earlier commentary by Joe Walsh, who called the rich goose-liver spread a “cruel delicacy” that should be prohibited because the geese are force-fed. Ammons countered that a local ban would be naive and unproductive in the face of an international factory-farm industry. “Trying to stop the production of foie gras is like swinging a fly swatter at a single, specific hornet when you are standing in the middle of a hornets’ nest,” he wrote. “If you really want to end cruelty in foie gras production, stop factory farming and you will be left with the heavily regulated and ethical foie gras that most high-end restaurants already serve.”

Trending Blogwires

The Xpress site’s Blogwire section aims to aggregate local news and views from a wide range of sources — publishing summaries of reports from other media outlets, as well as entire press releases from local nonprofits, government advisories and more. This year’s most-viewed Blogwire offering was “Salmonella Contamination Forces S.C. Dog Food Plant to Issue Recall — Others May Be Coming.” Rhodes cited Reuters.com May 5 report that a rare strain of salmonella linked to dog food had infected 14 people in nine states, including North Carolina.

The next-most-read Blogwire was “Buncombe County School Board Sets Religious Policy,” posted by News Managing Editor Margaret Williams. She highlighted an April 12 Asheville Citizen-Times article reporting that the new board had updated its policy, decreeing that the county school system would “neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression or practice.” Williams also rounded up related Twitter dispatches from Angela Pippinger, a pagan with a child in the county schools.

Another post by Williams, “U.S. Geological Survey: Sea Level Rise Increasing Three to Four Times Faster on Part of East Coast,” claimed the No. 3 spot. “Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to north of Boston, Mass. — coined a ‘hotspot’ by scientists — has increased 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 to 1.0 millimeter per year,” the U.S. Geological Survey press release warned.

Check the Xpress site tomorrow to see the most viewed A/E and food/beer stories.


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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