2013’s greatest hits: The year’s most-read news stories

Hot news: The fire in the River Arts District at the New Belgium site was one of the most-read stories of the year. Photo by Max Cooper.

Rising immigration

The most-viewed story at mountainx.com this year tapped into the continuing national debate over immigration policy.

In the Xpress blog post titled “Mexican Consulate Plans Saturday, Oct. 19 Asheville Visit to Aid Immigrants,” freelance writer Ami Worthen reported on an effort to help local immigrants obtain ID cards and other services.

“Without the proper identification, people who have immigrated to this country from Mexico cannot even get a library card, let alone utilities or a bank account,” said Carolina McCready, co-director of the nonprofit El Centro of Henderson County, which organized the effort.

However, the report was picked up by the popular right-leaning Drudge Report national news site, and the majority of online commenters raised concerns that the event would inappropriately help people who came to the area illegally.

More than 24,000 Mexicans live in Western North Carolina; nearly 9,000 are in Buncombe County and about 8,500 in Henderson County, according to the Consulate General of Mexico.

Life’s a show

Next on the list of popular news blogs was “Don Yelton Responds to Criticism of his Controversial Daily Show Interview.”

Yelton, a longtime local conservative activist, drew national attention for comments he made on the renowned comedy program as part of a segment on controversial new state voter-ID laws.

“The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” Yelton declared, contradicting Republican Party leaders who’ve maintained that the law is not about partisanship. “If it hurts a bunch of college kids that are too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, then so be it,” continued Yelton. “If it hurts a bunch of whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, then so be it.”

Amid national condemnation of his statements, Yelton told Xpress: “The comments that were made, that I said, I stand behind them. I believe them.” Under pressure from the state GOP, Yelton soon stepped down from his position as precinct chair.

Written by Xpress staffer Jake Frankel, the story was cited in several national outlets including Politico, The Atlantic and The Rachel Maddow Show.

Fire district

Our third-most-viewed news story was “Breaking: New Belgium Fire ‘Very Suspicious.’”

Written by Xpress staffer Caitlin Byrd a couple of days after an April 5 fire consumed two buildings at the future New Belgium Brewery site on Craven Street, the story featured the first comments from Asheville Fire Department Battalion Chief Carlo Marzella indicating that it may well have been arson. “I would say that it’s very suspicious. Two buildings, the same location [and] a significant distance apart were on fire at the same time,” he noted.

Later that week, the Asheville Fire Department officially determined that the fires had been intentionally set. They were the latest in a series of arsons in the neighborhood: Just a few days earlier, another blaze had heavily damaged the former Asheville Cotton Mill building on Riverside Drive. Authorities investigated the fires but were unable to determine who was responsible. No one was injured.

Meanwhile, the fires spurred New Belgium to step up security measures at the site as it continues work on a $175 million production facility in West Asheville.

Fighting exposure

In one of the first actions of his second term in Raleigh, Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County introduced legislation in January that would have made it illegal for women to publicly expose their nipples.

In “Moffitt Proposes Ban on Public Female Toplessness,” Xpress staffer David Forbes noted that the lawmaker’s proposal sought to expand the definition of “private parts” in the state’s indecent exposure law to include “the nipple, or any portion of the areola, of the human female breast.” Violators could have been charged with a felony.

The bill included a specific exemption for breast-feeding but would have banned events such as the topless rallies held Asheville the past several years. In 2012, Mayor Terry Bellamy and all members of the Asheville City Council signed a letter asking people to avoid the event and declared their intent to seek state legislation “that will clarify the law and allow Asheville and other communities in North Carolina to respond more effectively.”

Moffitt said he introduced the proposal at the city’s request.

Ironically, the stated goal of those rallies was to raise awareness of women’s right to appear topless. “Politicians are still missing the entire point,” said GoTopless President Nadine Gary in response to Moffitt’s bill. “Our rallies are aimed at bringing attention to a serious matter of unconstitutional, unequal treatment: In much of the United States, women are still persecuted or arrested for going topless, while men aren’t.”

After months of discussion, the North Carolina General Assembly declined to act on the measure; Moffitt has said he may reintroduce it in the future.

Challenging assumptions

More and more psychiatrists are challenging the most fundamental assumptions about mental illness. And in our fifth-most-viewed post, “Rethinking Mental Health: Local Practitioners, Groups Reject Mainstream Treatment,” freelance writer Tracy Rose explored the perspectives of local doctors and patients alike concerning psychiatric medications and their side effects.

“Unfortunately, and sadly, more often than not, medications do more harm than good,” Asheville psychiatrist Daniel Johnson said in the story. “And of course I had contributed to all that in my own practice. I had a lot of soul searching and reckoning to do on a personal level.”

The article noted that many in the field disagree with Johnson’s assessment of medications. It also outlined a number of less-well-known local resources for people struggling with mental illness, such as the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective, which seeks to destigmatize mental illness and give those dealing with it a greater voice.



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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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