Xpress contributing editor Nelda Holder arrested after participating in Raleigh protest

After protesting the policies of North Carolina’s Republican legislators, freelance state government reporter and contributing editor for Xpress Nelda Holder was charged with second-degree trespassing. Consequently,  she says she acknowledges the larger implications the arrest has for her as a journalist and her work for the Asheville-based publication.

Holder joined Xpress as a full-time staffer in 2004, worked primarily as the Letters and Opinion editor and retired in 2009. Since then, she has worked intermittently as a freelance writer and editor for the paper. A few years ago, she launched Xpress‘s “NCMatters” blog, which covers North Carolina legislative news. But Holder says she was not covering the Moral Monday protest for the publication when she was arrested on June 3.

“This was premeditated and personal. I did not talk to the Xpress beforehand because I wanted it to stay personal,” Holder says. “Now, I’m back and I have to face the consequences.”

Before Monday’s arrest, Holder primarily covered the goings on in the North Carolina General Assembly. However, Xpress has a clear policy on editorial neutrality. According to the publication’s 2012 social-media policy, “In the public’s mind, you are always connected to Xpress. This makes it virtually impossible to speak solely for yourself, even when writing in your own private accounts during off-hours — and even when you don’t want to be associated with Xpress.”

However, Holder responds, the ethical line of how far to take editorial neutrality can vary from reporter to reporter and from person to person.

“I’ve always felt really strongly about my role and my ethics as a reporter, whether on staff or just as a writer in the community. It’s a hard question because you don’t want to do anything that would compromise the community’s trust,” she shares. “I totally trust myself to do exactly what I did before and do it fairly. The point is, the question is, does the public trust me?”  She adds, “The thing that has to be guarded is the public’s trust; if the public doesn’t trust me to write a fair legislative piece, then my business here is done.”

In a statement, Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes says this isn’t the first time his publication has had to grapple with these issues.

“In our 18-year history, we have had to contend with reporters and their passions. After all, we’re a community paper and we promote citizen activism, of all stripes and types. Our goal is to get people involved,” he writes. “Sometimes our reporters take the paper’s mission very much to heart.”

According to Xpress Co-Managing Editor and News Editor Margaret Williams, because Holder is not a full-time staffer, the severity of the situation lessens.

“A freelancer is not on staff. It is a different level of responsibility and duty that they have. They represent Xpress to a degree, but they may work for other publications and they may do other work, other jobs. We don’t own anyone, whether it’s a staffer or a freelancer,” Williams says. “We strive to be objective and that is a goal and an ideal, but we are human.”

For Holder, it was her work covering state issues that prompted her to take a stand.

“I’ve been reading bills that I think very few people sit down and read all the way through — including some legislators. That, frankly, is what drove me to do this,” she says. She attributes her frustrations to,“what’s contained in those bills, a lack of farsightedness in those bills, the duplicity that I perceive in a lot of those bills, the lack of empathy for the general population for this state and anyone who is of a lower income stature.”

However, the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, a widely accepted set of ethical guidelines for the news industry, clearly states that reporters should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”

Going forward, Williams says that Holder’s contributions to the NCMatters blog will not continue. Citing unrelated budget constraints and ongoing efforts to build community collaborations, Williams says a partnership with Carolina Public Press was underway before Holder’s arrest; the Asheville-based nonprofit covers state and regional news. However, Holder’s arrest does not mean she will no longer write for Xpress, says Williams.

For Holder, whether she writes more for the publication or not, she says it all rests on the public’s trust.

“I did this publicly and took ownership for it, and I’m talking with you about it, and it was a personal statement, not a Mountain Xpress statement,” she says. “It’s up to the paper in terms of where we go from here.”

The publisher echoes Holder’s concerns in his statement. Fobes writes, “Right now, wisdom suggests a cooling off period for her. But let’s see what the future holds. “

Caitlin Byrd can be reached at cbyrd@mountainx.com, or 251-1333, ext. 140.


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12 thoughts on “Xpress contributing editor Nelda Holder arrested after participating in Raleigh protest

  1. Joseph C. Carney III

    Since you will moderate my comment,possibly, I won’t go any deeper than the PC police may allow. But, I find it terribly disturbing, that a simple local rag, made to cover and announce community issues and events, would side with the lawyers and politicians, and leave they’re own to grovel for possible forgiveness and acceptance. All she did was stand up for all of our rights. Get with MX, were watching..

    • Margaret Williams

      I’m not sure how anything in Ms. Holder’s response could be seen as groveling, nor how our response could be seen as siding with the lawyers and the politicians. Like any business, we have standards, and we do our best to apply them. Holder has professional and personal standards, too, and did her best to uphold them. I respect her as much as I always have, but her action does change her business relationship with Xpress.

      And that’s all OK.

  2. Audrey Mercer

    Yea, Nelda! I respect your integrity and courage and commend you on taking a stand.

  3. Yeppers

    Ridiculous: a world where it is considered a conflict of interest for a citizen journalist to get arrested, and none for a journalist to be embedded in the armed forces.

    I will lost immense amounts of respect for this paper if there is a “cooling off period” for this *freelance* writer, as suggested by the editor.


  4. kimboronni

    I hope everyone who reads this post also checks out the post regarding Isaac Dickson and the delay of the new middle school.

  5. Michael Hopping

    Thank you, Nelda.

    It is important that news outlets present contentious issues fairly. But it’s another thing entirely to engage in the common journalistic farce of not appearing to have an opinion. Your refusal to disengage your brain or sit idly by as a monumental travesty unfolds in Raleigh is an example of citizenship worth emulating. You deserve applause, not punishment.

  6. Big Al

    I never considered MountainX to be as neutral as other “mainstream” media claim to be. they are clearly activist and always have been.

    And I agree with Yeppers that the media should not be embedded with our military.

  7. Meiling Dai

    Aside from Nelda Holder’s participation in the protest movement in Raleigh, she is an excellent
    freelance reporter on legislative activity
    in Raleigh. She critically analyzes bills, making it easier for people like myself to understand their importance and meaning.

  8. Stewart David

    A big thank you to Nelda. What is going on in Raleigh is an assault on the disenfranchised, and I applaud everyone speaking out against the madness. As the bumper sticker says, if you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    Dr. Martin Luther King

  9. mcates

    Yeppers & Big Al,

    I share your reservations about media being embedded with troops, but that is something the media wants.

    Very few in the media want to move around in a war zone without the US military to protect them. They know the risk to their personal safety increases drastically when not embedded.

  10. mcates

    No doubt Nelda Holder is an excellent reporter and has the ability to present information well.

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