Mountain Xpress: Our Twitter Manifesto

The Mountain Xpress, Asheville, N.C.‘s, alternative newsweekly, took a remarkable step on Wednesday, ending its 14-year run as a print publication (today’s issue is our last), suspending its regular online news reports and converting its entire news operation to Twitter dispatches from staff and trusted community journalists.

Here at Mountain Xpress, we find ourselves facing unprecedented change. Like many of you, we’re battling a contracting economy that’s forcing us to work smarter, faster, smaller. Meanwhile, digital tools offering new ways of engaging readers seem to land in our inboxes daily. And the astonishing growth and spread of mobile users and social networking capabilities is delivering new news faster than we can even begin to figure out what the old news was.

In other words, news outlets no longer control the flow of information. Quite simply, the tools have left the building.

But that doesn’t mean we’re throwing in the virtual towel. We at Xpress feel strongly that there’s still an important role for journalists in this society. And as a truth-seeking filter, an ever-vigilant watchdog and a community meeting place for diverse thoughts and ideas, we wholeheartedly believe that the newspaper will continue to play a crucial role in our democracy, even if it no longer offers either “news” or “paper” in the conventional sense.

Things are changing, and Xpress has decided not only to embrace that change but to charge ahead in a manner befitting the creativity and edge that make Asheville the continually shifting center point it undoubtedly is.

Accordingly, we here unveil the new Mountain Xpress: the nation’s first Twaper (Twitter-powered newspaper). After much thought and internal debate, we have decided to vault the obstacles of conflict and debate in a single, electric leap of faith. From now on, Xpress will be all Twitter, all the time, exclusively featuring the microblogging bursts of the diverse and emphatic folks who collectively make up this community.

As we surf the tsunami of the unfolding media revolution, it’s become increasingly clear to us that the 140-character-long “tweets” provided by you and your neighbors are the most apt approximation to date of the lightning-fast and cracklingly condensed neuronal flashes that are the root of all thought and, thus, all true community exchange. You’ll soon come to see that by adding tags to your tweets, such as “txmx” for technical matters or “mxup” for underpublicized information, you’ll be able to fine-tune and direct your contributions to the overall “Twitter-twatter.”

Admittedly, some of you may feel some nostalgia for the “print edition,” which comes in so handy when your phone needs charging or you can’t find a wi-fi zone (or when nature calls). But just think of all the trees we’ll be saving together—not to mention all the time we’ll all save.

Face it: In today’s fast-paced, multitasking, pause-and-you’ve-fallen-behind world, most of us simply don’t have the time to read long, rambling, 2,000-word print pieces. And by the time you’ve half finished figuring out what you think about homelessness in Asheville, say, that story’s already become functionally obsolete.

In that same amount of time, we could be tweeting and aggregating our way to a whole new vision of community and even, perhaps, of dialogue itself. And thanks to Twitter’s technologically enforced brevity, it will almost be a “conversation without words.”

Welcome to the brave new world of pure, community-driven journalism. The Mountain Xpress, as we knew it, is dead. Long live the nation’s first Twaper!

Jeff Fobes, publisher
Mountain Xpress



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

62 thoughts on “Mountain Xpress: Our Twitter Manifesto

  1. lilith

    The twitter plague is upon us; praise newspeak 4 all. The denegration of language is doubleplusgood.

  2. Brian Sarzynski

    Congratulations on your modest proposal. One question: Will there be a ceremony where Peter Gregutt gets to burn his AP Style Manual? And I hope he gets a raise if he has to follow all these people around and copy edit on their cell phones.

  3. Dionysis

    This change may be understandable, but it’s not welcome. Like ‘zen’ notes, there is no replacement for reading a print copy, and this Twitter-ization eliminates the spirited posts on the web version. Too bad. Bye.

  4. This is going to be a hard transition for folks. With some time put into design upgrades and help from people on the street I think this will work. Good luck in being revolutionary.

  5. Jen

    If this were true..I would seriously doubt the quality of this publication for the first time.

  6. AshevilleLive

    Oh No! It is another sad day for Asheville!
    We will miss you @mountainxpress

    You guys worked too hard anyway!
    Enjoy your time off…

  7. Rob Close

    and yet it’s obviously not real. but you had me for like 10 seconds upon opening the home-page. and then i laughed, so well done.

  8. Tweetastic !!!!!

    Those on the cutting edge of technology will always bleed a bit…..but this bold move by Mountain Xpress shows that they remain the leader of the pack.

    I cant’ wait for the 140 character version of the Asheville Disclaimer.

    In a related story, WLOS announced that all future newscasts will be done using 12 second videocasts via

  9. Ash's Dad

    Good luck with that! I don’t know if Twitter is the way to go…too many limitations…what happens when it crashes for hours and hours?

    April fools.

  10. Nelda Holder

    Readers of these comments and this manifesto should be aware that the STAFF was not informed by the ADMINISTRATION that this change was in the offing. We are looking at our legal options.

  11. Rob Close

    Legal? Nelda, this simply can’t be true.

    “And thanks to Twitter’s technologically enforced brevity, it will almost be a “conversation without words.””

    I think that’s the final give-away.

  12. September Girl

    This is just like that time when my friend Kim filled our friend Alvy’s car with styrofoam peanuts. Kind of like that.

  13. Greek Monroe

    Ta ta. I predict this will be a disaster. You will only reach the cellphone/laptop addicted crowd, and thereby miss large swatches of your former reading public. Also, the potential abuse-of-the-news factor on twitter is bad news. Gossip news. Your forum is already full of gossip and personal attacks. Will the former mainline “print” version now stoop to that level as well?

  14. Ken Hanke

    Let’s see…140 character movie reviews. That’s 35 characters less than Rotten Tomatoes allows you for a breakout quote.

    And while I adapted to removing the staples for putting the paper under the kitty pans, I’m stumped by how to deal with this.

  15. September Girl

    I had a Swatch in the 80’s, coolest watch I ever owned. I think it was even water proof.

  16. Jon Elliston

    To those who are laughing at the demise of our newspaper: Go ahead, kick us when we’re down. But who will be laughing when you can’t stand to go five minutes without checking the Twaper?

  17. Webmaster

    This is no joke. In hindsight I can see how the launch date makes this event somewhat confusing but in the web department we’re all really excited about this move. And we’re not done yet! There will be great things ahead in the coming weeks. The only thing that I am a little apprehensive about is that Fobes is trying to rename my position “The Twitmaster”, which I think is ludicrous.

  18. Lisa Watters

    I too wish this was only a joke.

    As a nine-year employee at Mountain Xpress what bothers me the most is that in all the comments we have received online and the many phone calls that have been coming in no one has expressed any concern about how this move will effect the staff at Mountain Xpress. I wish our management had fought a little harder to keep our newspaper version a viable option. I am very disappointed.

  19. luxifurr

    this opens up all sorts of linguistic possibilities… news as haiku anyone?

    April 1 spring sprung
    Mountain X saves trees from death
    now powered by coal

  20. kencrazy2000

    I love April Fool’s Day. But it’s sometimes hard to identify the fools. If the MX really is going the way of Twitter, then I will be a Twit. It’s the Asheville way, after all. If not, it still begs the question. What place does print media have in our lives? I long ago gave up my subscription the AC-T, which is priced ridiculously high in comparison with major papers, in favor of the electronic version. It is not better or more accurate, but it keeps my hands clean.

  21. Jason Sandford

    Mountain Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes’ memo to staff:

    To: All staff
    From: Jeff Fobes, Publisher
    Re: “Twaper,” the new, Twitter-powered Mountain Xpress
    Date: April 1, 2009

    Today we embark on an exciting new chapter in the world of journalism, putting the power in the hands of the people by turning Mountain Xpress and over to the growing cadre of Twitterers in our community.

    I know we don’t all agree on this. Some of you consider Twitter a postmodern debasement of journalism bordering on bathroom-wall discourse. Some of you believe we’re simply pandering to a dangerous consumer trend, or displacing accurate reporting with heedless or even calculating rumormongering.

    But I really think you’re missing the point. Ever since I started publishing Green Line, an environmental newsletter, back in the ’80s, my goal has been to empower the grass roots while encouraging thoughtful community dialogue leading to constructive action. In the past, that meant producing carefully researched, locally focused stories presenting multiple viewpoints, and spotlighting informed community members who have something thought-provoking to say about the issues facing us.

    But that was then and this is now; we’re in a higher-risk environment these days, and the only way out is the way in. New times call for new ideas, new approaches, new paradigms. And that means we need to be more flexible, more canny, more slippery, if you will, even as we cleave to the mantra of building healthy communities, one tweet at a time.

    I understand that many of you are accustomed to the more “considered” role of the old-school journalist, who sifts information; strives for relevance, accuracy and balance; and offers a starting point for the community to jump in, duke it out and, hopefully, arrive at some kind of productive consensus.

    But in the current hyperdynamic situation, I believe we need to focus on dancing with the new, not fighting with it. Reporters and editors need to remember to check their egos (both personal and professional) at the door, being mindful that their mission is one of service to the community. The Soviet Union really blew it back in the ’70s and ’80s when they tried to control the availability of photocopiers in their country as a way to stifle the flow of info.

    All this is to say that the “kings” and “queens” of info understand its dynamics and love to help it move. To try to dam it up or claim ownership rights is very tricky and likely counterproductive. So I say scratch the “kings” and “queens” — we need less royalty and more humble servants, aikido masters of info flow. The image of the laughing Buddha fleetingly emerges before receding once again into the virtual mist…

  22. kencrazy2000

    I am moved by Jeff Fobe’s latest comments. They are spiritual, yet lean. Like a hungry reporter trying to sell a story to his old, out of touch editor. So, I say, go with the flow, and recognize the world’s newest paradigm. I Twit, therefore, I am. Informed that is. Too, if you would care to start a church where we could hold our prayers to 140 characters and just stay home on Sunday mornings, I’m there. Or not there, as it were. Apostles of Twit?

  23. Nelda Holder

    If we scratch the “kings” and “queens,” exactly who are these “more humble servants” supposed to serve? To whom shall they be humble? Where’s the real revolutionary rhetoric? And how many characters did I just use — quick!

  24. ncain

    I do hope that when this little joke is over that it will at least spur a conversation about what journalism will be in the Internet age.

    Twitter, at its best, is a peripheral tool, good for conveying simple, concrete information like, “Main Street Closed due to wreck” and at its worst it’s another goddamn way for idiots to be self-insulgent on the Internet. It’s not really the future of anything.

  25. ncain

    That’s self-indulgent, or course. I have no idea what self-insulgent is, but it sounds bad.

  26. Jon Elliston

    nccain: “I do hope that when this little joke is over that it will at least spur a conversation about what journalism will be in the Internet age”

    Like I say, I sure wish this was a joke. But since it’s not, let’s go ahead and start the conversation you suggest, which could prove valuable. But please keep your comments to 140 characters or fewer.

  27. David Forbes

    Having grown up in the internet era, and long ago honed my writing to haiku-like brevity, I welcome our new Tweeted-out tomorrow.

    140 characters is the new black.

  28. ncain

    “Like I say, I sure wish this was a joke. But since it’s not, let’s go ahead and start the conversation you suggest, which could prove valuable. But please keep your comments to 140 characters or fewer.”


    Twittering is retarded. (21 characters).

  29. September Girl

    People with long twitter handles eat up too many characters on retweets. Something needs to be done about this.

  30. Chad Nesbitt

    Breaking –

    Gordon Smith and I are in love.

    I am the winner of the Buncombe County Spelling B.

    Elliston agrees with me and believes Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.

    I have become a liberal Democrat and a member of Coven Oldenwild.

  31. bobaloo

    Anyone tell Dionysis to untwist his panties yet?

    Also breaking today: Chad Nesbitt buys a real motorcycle, condemns highway stunts by rice-rocketeers.

  32. Dionysis

    “Anyone tell Dionysis to untwist his panties yet?”

    I guess that was left up to you. It’s reassuring to know someone is keeping up with panty protocols.

  33. Rob Close

    If this was true (which I honestly still don’t believe at all), what would they be doing to their advertising base? That’s the heart of the free paper’s money – which a twaper just couldn’t provide. So the idea makes no sense, thus it’s a joke. But really, great job getting everyone in on it.

  34. Chad Nesbitt

    Breaking –

    Scrutiny Hooligans looses bid – Nesbitt buys Ashevegas website for a cool 2 million.

    Elliston, Forbes report for work at the
    Carolina Stompers.

    Sanford buys remaining stock of Gannet News – vows to turn it around.

    Clear Channel fires Mittan hires Yelton.

    Sanford buys Clear Channel fires Yelton hires Hooters girl.

    Nesbitt in rehab, breaks from Democrat Party-
    Cry’s, “They made me hug a tree.”

    Sanford buys WLOS makes Debra Potter lead anchor.

    “We illuminated him”, Mumpower saves Chad Nesbitt from the leftist liberals.

  35. gotta give Chad a couple of high 5s for both of his posts on this thread.

    I’m looking forward to Chad moderating the first debate between Avl city council and mayoral candidates.

  36. What will we do when all the papers stop?

    Does that mean we will have Free Speech then?

    No paper trail to back a mans word, who would keep track of who is suing who owns what…LOL

  37. Gary James

    Excellent. I am looking forward to chirping, where you have to say what you’re doing in 90 characters or less. Excellent joke. I’m hoping the phenomenon has a half life of half the life of your paper. Keep up the good work!

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