Most summers bring Mountain Xpress a fresh crop of bright young folks with a love of writing and an interest in community. The fruits of this year’s interns’ labor have been gracing our pages for the past few weeks, with more stories to come as the budding journalists wrap up their work before returning to class for the new school year.
Maude Kneale, Hannah Massen and A.J. O’Leary have each managed to work 16-20 hours per week in our happy content factory while still finding time for other jobs and some pretty interesting adventures. Let’s dig in to learn more about some of Western North Carolina’s finest young writing talent.
Maude Kneale, rising senior at Asheville High School
Kneale, aka “Maude the Mauler” (her roller derby handle), is Xpress‘ second City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy intern. The CAYLA program invests in Asheville City and Buncombe County schools students by providing paid work experience, mentorship, leadership development and scholarship opportunities. The program matches participating students with summer internships aligned to their interests and skills. In addition to spending time with Kneale this summer, Xpress is collaborating with other CAYLA interns and employers to explore creating pieces related to their work in the program.
An aspiring veterinarian, Kneale also works part time at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital. She says she hopes her time at Xpress will bolster her research and writing skills, standing her in good stead when publishing scientific research in the future. She’s a member of the science honor society at Asheville High and volunteers at Isaac Dickson Elementary.
One of five siblings, she enjoys spending time with her family. Her sister, Maeve Kneale, also participated in the CAYLA program this year.
Kneale says one of the most unexpected things about working with Xpress this summer was seeing how many people and different functions it takes to produce and distribute a community newspaper each week. “I thought this would be a small office with a small staff, so I was really surprised to see how many people work here,” she says. “When you just see that new cover, you don’t think about all it takes to make that.”
Hannah Massen, rising sophomore at Elon University
Whatever you’ve packed into your summer, it might pale in variety compared with Massen’s: In addition to working with Xpress, she visited Israel, where she had her bat mitzvah at Jerusalem’s Western Wall and toured the Golan, the Dead Sea, Massadah and Tel Aviv. Another whirlwind trip took her to Washington, D.C., where she covered the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) USA conference and staffed a panel on 5G technology.
Back in Asheville, Massen also worked as a sales associate at Anthropologie on Lexington Avenue and as a content creator for SmartMarketing Communications.
Originally from Taos, N.M., Massen and her parents moved to Asheville about six years ago. She attended middle and high school at Carolina Day School, which she says was quite a transition from her previous home schooling experience.
When she’s not running around in a hyper-organized flurry of productivity, Massen likes hanging out with her pets, Dudley (a hefty orange cat) and Frank (a miniature dachshund). She’s also partial to a good grape jelly and ketchup sandwich.
Massen reflects that the audiences she has reached in writing for her high school newspaper (The Scratching Post) and college newspaper (The Pendulum) have been smaller in size, diversity and breadth of interests than the regional audience that reads Xpress each week. She’s been thrilled at sources’ willingness to talk with a summer intern. On the flip side, being on the receiving end of critical online comments and disgruntled emails has taken some getting used to, she says. Another learning experience: Sitting in on editorial meetings that touch on media industry trends, news budgets and advertising revenue. “That makes it really real,” she comments.
A.J. O’Leary, rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Fresh in from a semester abroad in Ireland, O’Leary’s work on Xpress‘ Green Scene section has taken him rafting down two local rivers — the French Broad and the Nolichucky — into local backyards and on the hunt for the (as-yet) elusive armadillo residing in Western North Carolina.
The opportunity to make a difference is what convinced O’Leary to major in journalism. “I think it’s important and I like to write,” he says. “People need to be informed, and if you read the news, you actually really do learn a lot and you are able to make better decisions. It’s a way for me to use something I enjoy to do something valuable for my community.”
When he’s not writing for Chapel Hill’s Daily Tar Heel or his personal blog, O’Leary works at his parent’s Chimney Rock general store, Bubba O’Leary’s. He also likes watching comedy shows and hanging out with his yellow lab, Bubba.
In a (totally unsolicited but much appreciated) farewell email, O’Leary wrote, “You definitely delivered on all your promises with this internship like learning about the day-to-day workings of a newspaper and getting opportunities to write. Also, I’m just glad I’ll know a few more friendly faces around Asheville.”
O’Leary’s post-grad plan includes working as an environmental journalist for a newspaper or pursuing his passion as a stand-up comedian in New York City, telling original jokes like, “What did the salt say to the tequila? Lime is of the essence.”
Tobias Friedman, rising senior at A.C. Reynolds High School
While Friedman has spent less time with Xpress than our other interns, we’ve enjoyed getting to know him as he completed a portion of his high school graduation project in our offices.
Spending time with Xpress, Friedman says, has increased his connection with the place he calls home, reflecting, “This isn’t just a hippy town or a bunch of hipsters — it’s everyone together in a community.”
He says he was surprised to observe that a relatively small group of people manages to put out “a whole newspaper every week” and noted that he hadn’t previously appreciated the level of effort required to provide coverage that’s consistently up-to-date, professional and with “few errors.”
Friedman plays clarinet, keyboard, piano and bass drum with various orchestras at A.C. Reynolds. He plans to study music technology in college (first choice, Georgia Tech; second choice, Ohio State University), which he explains combines the technological aspects of audio engineering and sound production with the artistic aspects of musical expression.
Inspired by his mother’s Israeli heritage, Friedman is researching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for his senior project, and his internship at Xpress allowed him explore issues of media bias and how those may have affected the course of the conflict.
Xpress Managing Editor Virginia Daffron and interns Maude Kneale, Hannah Massen and A.J. O’Leary contributed to this report.