Year in Review: News about the local news, 2023

Jon Elliston. Photo by Jack Sorokin

By some measures, 2023 was a volatile year for Asheville-area media — the good kind of volatile. Several local outlets surged their news operations, bringing new resources, programs and reporters into the mix. Here are some highlights from a year that suffered no lack of local issues begging for media and public scrutiny.

  • As part of a self-declared “Big Switch” to a “news-forward footing,” Asheville-based Blue Ridge Public Radio ramped up its reporting staff. Among the organization’s many hires, in May, veteran North Carolina journalist Laura Lee became news director; in June, Laura Hackett came on board to cover Asheville and Buncombe; in October, Jose Sandoval joined as afternoon host and reporter; and that same month, Felicia Sonmez was introduced as the radio’s growth and development reporter. Now, breaking news: National nonprofit Report for America announced in early December that WCQS has been awarded the services of an early career journalist, whose work RFA will co-fund.
  • In March, longtime local journalist Karen Chávez was named executive editor of both the Asheville Citizen Times and the Hendersonville Times-News. She began with the Citizen Times in 2000 and served in several editorial positions before becoming “the first Latina in the newspaper’s more than 150-year history to lead the newsroom,” the newspaper noted.
  • February brought the debut of “The Overlook with Matt Peiken,” a thrice-weekly podcast by local radio veteran Matt Peiken, formerly of Blue Ridge Public Radio. On the program, Peiken showcases a variety of artistic, political and journalistic voices from “the growing, complicated city of Asheville.”
  • Asheville Watchdog, the nonprofit investigative online outlet launched in 2020, extended its mounting reportorial coverage with work such as the 12-part series “Down Town,” which explored Asheville’s concerns with homelessness, mental health services, crime and public safety over the summer. The series was a finalist for the Institute for Nonprofit News’ 2023 Best Investigative Journalism Award. Meanwhile, the N.C. Press Association awarded the series a first-place finish for its News Enterprise Reporting category. Asheville Watchdog earned six additional NCPA awards this year. The online outlet also added investigative journalist Andrew R. Jones to its staff and welcomed Keith Campbell as its managing editor. Reporter John Reinan also joined the Watchdog team.
  • Asheville Blade, which describes itself as “a leftist local news co-op focusing on hard-hitting journalism, in-depth investigation and sharp views from our city,” became national news this summer as trespassing charges against two Blade reporters, Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit (who were reporting on a public park clearing by Asheville police) wended through the courts. The case raised hotly debated questions about First Amendment and local press freedoms. Stay tuned: For the second time, the reporters are appealing their trespassing convictions.
  • Don’t stop the presses: After announcing in November that it might have to cease publishing, The Fairview Town Crier, a free monthly newspaper that has covered the community for 26 years, said in its December issue that after making two key hires, “The Crier will live on.”
  • Angie Newsome, founder and executive director of Carolina Public Press left the organization in October. Newsome was replaced by Kara Andrade, who left shortly after taking over. Amid the changes, former Managing Editor Frank Taylor rejoined CPP in his previous role and Lisa Lopez assumed the role of interim executive director. The organization also won 14 NCPA awards.
  • Xpress welcomed two new reporters, Greg Parlier and Chase Davis, to the news team this year. Meanwhile, Lisa Allen came on as an editor. Reporters Justin McGuire and Jessica Wakeman both received NCPA awards this year: McGuire earned a first-place finish for Sports Feature Writing; Wakeman won two third-place finishes for Editorial Ledes as well as News Feature Writing. Reporter Brooke Randle received an honorable mention by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia for Election Coverage.
  • Raise a glass for Tony Kiss: No recap of 2023’s comings and goings in our mediascape would be complete without noting the death, in August, of this local media icon. The 68-year-old journalist was nigh synonymous with Asheville’s brewing industry, which he helped catapult as “The Beer Guy,” one of his many reportorial guises for the Asheville Citizen Times (and later as “Carolina Beer Guy” for Xpress). Kiss was remembered for his tremendous personality and deep imprint on Asheville’s arts, culture and journalism.

Thanks for reading through to the end…

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About Jon Elliston
Former Mountain Xpress managing editor Jon Elliston is the senior editor at WNC magazine.

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One thought on “Year in Review: News about the local news, 2023

  1. Curious

    What’s the scoop on Jason Sandford’s place in local news? His Ashvegas blog at one time was very influential.

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