A lot of people are understandably concerned, upset or angry about the recent news of — as Cecil Bothwell so bluntly put it in his own press release to WNC media, as well as other friends and associates — his “sacking” by Publisher Jeff Fobes and Managing Editor Jon Elliston.
If all we knew was what we’d gleaned from Cecil’s account, we’d be concerned, distrustful or at least confused ourselves. Cecil gave a detailed description of his own journalistic accomplishments, as well as his surprise and dismay when he heard the news. Since then, blog comments and word of mouth have been fueling the rumor mill.
As is so often the case, however, there’s more to this story. And though we’d like to discuss the matter fully and with as much passion as our fellow journalist has displayed, these are personnel matters, and discretion must be our central guiding principle.
But before you rush to judgment about the loss of one of your favorite reporters, please at least consider this: You don’t have enough facts to adequately assess the basis for Xpress management’s decision to drop Bothwell from its news team.
We bridle at insinuations and accusations that Xpress or its management lacks the passion for investigative journalism, or that our publication has sold out. But ultimately, our reaction isn’t what matters. What matters is what we will publish in the weeks, months and years to come. And we ask readers to at least allow for the possibility that we will proceed with some measure of intelligence, vision and professionalism. After all, we have helped steer a pioneering Asheville media outlet that’s been part of this community since 1987, and we don’t believe we’ve sold our souls, forsaken our mission or lost our minds.
One thing we can say is that the issues between Cecil and Xpress are long-standing ones that all parties involved have been discussing and attempting to resolve for years. So we too are surprised — by Cecil’s astonishment over the current state of affairs.
But putting all this aside, we love Cecil’s passionate devotion to civic issues and social justice. And we agree with other Bothwell supporters that he’s made an enormous contribution to Xpress — and, most importantly, to this community — over the years.
For those who remain unconvinced by these arguments, please remember this: A lot goes into making Xpress what it is, and it is definitely a team effort. No single one of us can take the whole credit for either the paper’s shining moments or its stumbles. And with or without Bothwell, we believe Xpress will still serve up a lot that’s worthy of your attention.
What’s more, we hope that Bothwell will remain a significant contributor to Xpress — just in a different role. We’d like to be able to publish him as a columnist — freed from the constraints of news reporting — both in print and on the Web.
Things change and evolve. People come and go, and many talented folks whose names graced these pages over the years have now moved on. There’s no doubt that with Cecil’s departure from the newsroom some things will be lost — and, we hope, others gained. But the overarching goal is to nurture and strengthen local civic debate. So we ask you to have patience, keep reading and keep sounding off.
As for those impassioned readers who have gone so far as to say they won’t be picking up Xpress anymore, we are sorry to hear it. But we ask you to remember that it takes a village of active individuals to make a healthy community. Bothwell is only one of those fine individuals; we must have other champions as well. Our job at Xpress is to make sure those voices have a podium from which to speak. And your job as readers is to step up and use it.
For the record (and so you can hold us to it), our commitment to our mission is unchanged. This mission statement provides our marching orders:
To build community and strengthen democracy by serving an active, thoughtful readership at the local level — where the impact of citizen action is greatest.
• We report independently, fairly and in-depth on local news and issues affecting Asheville and the surrounding region.
• We chronicle the area’s vibrant arts-and-culture scene.
• We treat our readers as participants in an ongoing civic dialogue.
• We honor diversity.
• We encourage excellent and innovative work in an equitable, respectful and collegial environment.
• We offer exceptional and affordable media opportunities for local businesses, professionals and nonprofit groups to promote their goods and services.