Xpress wins for community coverage, general excellence
Mountain Xpress earned the prize it most covets — first place for Community Coverage — in the 2019 N.C. Press Association awards. Announced at the association’s annual banquet in Raleigh on Feb. 27, Xpress’ wins also included a second-place finish in the General Excellence category for the state’s largest community newspapers.
Staff writer Edwin Arnaudin brought home a first-place honor in business writing for “Asheville’s newest breweries see room for continued industry growth,” part of the 2019 Xpress Sustainability Series.
Editor and reporter Daniel Walton won second place in the election and political coverage category for “2020 election campaigns already stirring in WNC,” a look at the historically early start to the election season that’s now in full swing. Managing Editor Virginia Daffron snagged a second-place finish in the education category for her ongoing coverage of the racial achievement gap in Asheville City Schools.
The snappy leading paragraphs of Food Editor Gina Smith’s 2019 stories won her a second-place prize in the ledes category. And designer Olivia Urban netted second- and third-place awards for two of the layouts she created for Xpress advertisers.
Asheville school board affirms superintendent selection
In stories that appeared online on Feb. 19 (avl.mx/6z9) and Feb. 26 (avl.mx/6za), Xpress examined news reports that highlight concerns surrounding Gene Freeman, incoming Asheville City Schools superintendent. The reports cover his time both with his current employer, the Fox Chapel Area School District (located in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pa.), and in his previous position with the Manheim Township School District (near Lancaster, Pa.).
A lack of transparency, unusually generous contract terms, potential conflicts of interest and an extended recent absence are among the issues raised by reporting from PublicSource, a nonprofit journalism project in Pennsylvania.
Through district spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin, the Asheville City Board of Education said, “We firmly believe Dr. Gene Freeman was and remains the best long-term fit for our district. We anticipate that upon Dr. Freeman’s arrival, his experience, his leadership skills and his genuine desire to foster success for all students will solidify our community’s support for our new superintendent.”
Freeman pointed to his record of improving test scores and financial stability in his previous districts. He is scheduled to begin work in Asheville on Wednesday, July 1.
Buncombe County leaders prepare for coronavirus
Representatives from Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Emergency Services and Mission Health held a press conference Feb. 28 about plans to prepare for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China — should the virus make its way to Buncombe County.
Although Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, said Mission’s leaders “fully anticipate” seeing the coronavirus in the community in the future, he and other officials emphasized that no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Buncombe County. On March 3, Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed that North Carolina’s first case of the virus had been reported in Wake County. Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, medical director for Buncombe County’s HHS, said residents should begin preparing for a potential community outbreak by stocking up on food and supplies.
Buncombe County HHS spokesperson Stacy Wood said the agency will be providing a weekly update on the status of the virus in a call-in format. General, nonmedical questions about coronavirus preparations can be sent to email@example.com. Information about COVID-19 in North Carolina is available through the N.C. Department of Public Health website at avl.mx/6ze.
Stein demands HCA response
In a letter dated Feb. 25, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein called on HCA Healthcare to respond to complaints about staffing levels, charity care, health care access and billing received since the company began running Mission Health last February.
The complaints were filed with the Stein’s office and raised during public meetings held by Gibbins Advisors, the independent monitor appointed to ensure HCA lives up to terms set by Stein for the $1.5 billion acquisition of nonprofit Mission Health. Should the company fail to comply with the purchase agreement, Stein wrote, his office “will do whatever we can for the people of Western North Carolina.”
Read the full text of Stein’s letter at avl.mx/6z8.
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