Media with a mission

Fifteen years ago, in keeping with Asheville's continuing love affair with upstarts, a small group of believers launched Mountain Xpress. It was a long shot.

Xpress started small, running about 24 pages a week, and slowly gained traction by virtue of its local focus and its chutzpah. We told readers that we published the news "from dance hall to city hall" and offered a commentary section that declared, "There seems to be a difference of opinion here." We had fewer sacred cows than was considered proper, and we played to the hopes of Asheville's small avant-garde, who yearned for their town to become more exciting, diverse and cosmopolitan.

Back then, Asheville was a quiet place economically and politically, run by an entrenched elite that favored the traditional route to civic progress: creating jobs by wooing big industry and national retailers. Tourism played second fiddle.

Residents got their news from the Asheville Citizen-Times, whose coverage reflected the elite's love of the status quo and a worldview still stuck in an earlier decade. But stirring the pot of public discourse — or agitating it, in the view of many — was an iconoclastic monthly called Green Line, an activist publication promoting "progressive" views.

Unfortunately, Green Line cost a lot more to produce than it took in from its subscribers, backers, advertisers and assorted true believers. After weathering seven years, largely through sheer obstinacy, the financial outlook was bleak. A detailed analysis, however, showed that maybe — just maybe — a second newspaper might be viable in this little town. But it would have to publish weekly, and it would need to reach beyond the boundaries of Green Line's not-so-large progressive constituency.

Asheville has seen its share of wild-eyed dreamers: Our town is an incubator, a fomenter of eccentricity, initiative and individualism. And the risk-takers rose to the occasion. About 250 people contributed money to help Green Line become Mountain Xpress — not as loans but as gifts to the community.

Shifting from monthly to weekly was an astonishing experience. The pace picked up fourfold, and it never let up. Our tiny staff lived and breathed the audacity of the effort, working for paltry pay (though we had, thankfully, closed the multiyear chapter of working for no pay).

Freelancer/staffer: "I won't work for so little money; I'm worth more than that."

Xpress: "This isn't about what you're worth — it's an experiment in community-building. We pay what we have — which, admittedly, isn't much."

Startups, of course, require large amounts of capital, and a few folks did the financial heavy lifting. I still recall the day a tall gentleman stopped by the office to ask a few unremarkable questions. Nodding pensively at my answers, he mildly inquired, "Would it help if you had some more money?"

"Sure — we could do a lot more," I allowed with a chuckle. That man turned out to be Julian Price, who returned (later that day, I believe) with a substantial check. Julian's philanthropy helped kindle scores of quirky, idealistic, dreamy local projects, many of them still with us today.

Over the years, Julian, and a couple of others who chose to remain anonymous, provided the lion's share of the capital for both Green Line and Mountain Xpress, not expecting ever to get a penny back, much less see any return on investment. And to this day, everything gets plowed back into making the product better and more reflective of the excitement that is Asheville. Now that's a business strategy you won't find at Gannett or other major newspaper chains.

At its heart, Mountain Xpress is an ongoing experiment testing the belief that healthy, democratic communities need locally focused media outlets that treat their "readers" as collaborators and activists. Xpress' preoccupation (some might say obsession) with all things local is fairly unusual; it certainly goes well beyond the mainstream media's current interest in local reporting. Beginning with Green Line, we've been practicing hyperlocal citizen journalism since the 1980s.

Sometimes it's hard to say no to major nonlocal stories. Like the time a distraught environmentalist practically demanded that we do a story about the danger of oil drilling on Alaska's North Slope, declaring it to be America's largest loss of pristine wilderness in the 20th century.

You can't justify ignoring the big stuff if your vision of "local focus" is limited to the time-honored role of hometown booster. But you can hold your focus if your greater goal is encouraging folks to get involved locally, where they can have both the greatest impact and the best chance to be heard, in the name of creating a healthier, smarter community.

When Green Line morphed into Xpress and advocates lamented the loss of the former's progressive stance, I used to counter, "We're still practicing advocacy journalism: We advocate that people participate in civic matters, regardless of their politics."

Taken to its logical conclusion, the slogan "Local Matters" makes us a booster for the individual, which is about as local as you can get. The idea is that everyone wants a place at the table, a chance to participate in their own unique fashion. I believe a healthy community has a higher-than-average ratio of participants to bystanders, and Asheville is definitely rich in participants.

Fifteen years ago, launching a weekly newspaper to promote community activism was a radical act. Today, there are more cutting-edge ways to convey the news, but promoting community activism remains as radical a vision as ever. And the new technologies give everyone a shot at being a publisher/blogger/originator of information — so there's a whole lot more room at the table.

If the premise is right, then the future should be wide open for this community of visionaries and doers. And you can expect Mountain Xpress to be right in there promoting the dialogue.

So that's our story: 15 years and counting. And to everyone who's taken part in the cause, in whatever fashion, happy 15th birthday!

• Jeff Fobes is the publisher of Mountain Xpress.

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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.

84 thoughts on “Media with a mission

  1. Justin Belleme

    Very inspirational, Jeff. I come away from this with a greater appreciation for the efforts and hard work that you and everyone else at the Xpress. Congratulations on the 15 year anniversary. I hope that the paper can make if 15 more years without losing your passion for and connection with this community. Thanks again!

  2. MusicLover45

    Happy Anniversary to you and your very hard working staff!! Thanks for everything y’all do.

  3. Footloose

    I enjoy the MX. Great calendars and articles on the arts. And the politics isn’t too overtly slanted to the left…most of the time. BUT, there is an unspoken leftwing bias at the MX, particularly on the forums section. It is ironic that a publication who prides itself on letting in another point of view 15 years ago doesn’t like the traditional Asheville native views printed. Why the fear? It’s just a conservative point of view. And WNC is a conservative area of the country. We register democrat, but we vote for conservative candidates that reflect our own family-God-country views. Only in Asheville is there a liberal presence of any size. And most of these liberals are from someplace else, not here. So instead of searching for excuses to not publish conservative commentators, I say: let all views be heard. (Oh, and Jon, don’t come back that you allow the other point of view in on a regular basis, save your one token conservative who kisses up and occasionally goes along to get along).

  4. Jeff Fobes

    Xpress commentary pages ARE open to commentators of all stripes. We have not turned any conservative commentaries because of their viewpoint, in my memory.

    Commentaries need to be locally focused and come from some basis of knowledge or expertise, i.e., something that moves them beyond a letter to the editor.

    Are there commentaries you’d like to write for Xpress?

  5. Rebecca Bowe

    Congrats Jeff and MX! You’ve put in a lot of hard work, and the paper is going strong. Asheville is lucky to have such a resource.

  6. Barry Summers

    Footloose – Maybe all ‘native views’ that you hear are conservative, but I know different. I know people who have lived here their whole lives who are more to the left that I am, and that’s saying something. When you claim to speak for all native folks in the area, and claim that they share your conservative point of view, you disrespect many of them and lose credibility yourself.

    This is an old trick, and part of why the media has been shifting to the right steadily over the past 30 years – conservatives claim that only they speak for ‘real’ people, and then lay on a guilt trip and commercial pressure to push their views to the front of the line. All this while polls show that on a huge range of issues, the population is generally more liberal than the media represents. The genuinely conservative and corporate views flood our airwaves and newspapers. Why are you so terrified by a different point of view? Democracy isn’t meant to be “We all agree.”

    Jeff, please don’t give in to this “working the refs” strategy.

  7. Frank Ricci

    “Jeff, please don’t give in to this “working the refs” strategy.”

    Why read something into a person’s post that isn’t there. I take footloose at his word. I give that to anyone. I am a liberal, but I can see some of footloose’s point that the Mountain Xpress has few conservative points of view. And when they are posted, it appears the moderators allow off subject silly responses by my fellow liberals. As I see in this thread: http://www.mountainx.com/news/2009/robin_cape_up_and_running

    Footloose makes what I would call a conservative comment, then The(pfkap) and shadmarsh nip at his heels like a couple of Yorkies, and do not address the points he/she has brought up. Off subject and unnecessary comments. And shadmarsh even goes as far as to say footloose should be hung from the Vance monument.

    Let’s get some more moderation of off subject and harrassing comments on Mountain Xpress. It’s such an excellent publication, otherwise. Our liberal points of view, stated, then commented on by everyone in an on-subject manner is the way I want to see this website look like.

  8. Brent Butt

    [b]Only in Asheville is there a liberal presence of any size[/b]

    Hmmm, then how did North Carolina vote Obama last year?

    I would love to see some commentaries from Willard and Cullen, the Xpress’ resident pseudo-con whiners. But I sincerely doubt they could string together enough cut and paste talking points to make a coherent column.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I would love to see some commentaries from Willard and Cullen, the Xpress’ resident pseudo-con whiners.

    I think you’ve been reading pure Cullen under at least one, if not three, alternate names in this very thread.

  10. Barry Summers

    “traditional Asheville native views”

    “It’s just a conservative point of view.”

    Frank Ricci – these are the statements that set off alarm bells for me – this author is flatly stating that ‘Asheville native views’ are conservative. That’s an unsupportable assertion, & in fact, it goes against all the evidence, as others have stated. (Not to mention that it’s a little insulting to those natives who don’t want their non-conservative views to be swept aside as if they don’t exist.)

    This flawed reasoning, used to promote one’s own beliefs above those of his neighbors, tells me that the author is “working the refs”, as I said. But hey, as long as it works, people will try it. Just ask Dennis Rodman. He pretended to have gotten fouled so many times, he should’ve been billed as the Chicago Bulls stuntman.

  11. Dick Buckminister

    “Only in Asheville is there a liberal presence of any size.

    Hmmm, then how did North Carolina vote Obama last year?”

    Mr Butt, Obama just barely eked out a win in North Carolina. And he did not take WNC. His strength was more in the eastern part of the state where the government paid liberals live. They voted to keep their paychecks coming. I got to agree with Mr Footloose that this area is not liberal. Except for Asheville where you got the newcomers living. Go out to Swain, Cherokee, Madison, McDowell, etc and you find the folks are for Southern values. God, country, family, state, community. And anybody paying attention knows old Obama aint good for these values. He just wants to bring Chicago socialism to the country. And we all know that aint working. Obama’s numbers are down down down. Watch for the republicans to take back the House come about this time next year.

  12. Bury GoldWater

    barry makes a good point. The cullen and Willard project is able to repeat their absurd assertions under as many fake, unregistered names as they want, with as many lies and fabrications as they can dream up, and the moderators will claim it is representative of a ‘conservative viewpoint’–as if anything they say even represent actual conservative thought instead of a repetition of fox talking points.

  13. FRank Ricci

    Barry Goldwater, sir, please restrain yourself. I see nothing in Dick Buckminister’s posting that looks like a “lie”. He is just giving his point of view. Although it is a fact that WNC went for McCain, not Obama. Obama did take North Carolina. But just barely. I am happy that I did vote for Mr Obama. I did want a black man elected president. I voted for him on that alone, and that he is such a good speaker and salesman.

  14. Barry Summers

    “Although it is a fact that WNC went for McCain, not Obama.”

    um…

    Buncombe: Obama: 69,415 votes, McCain: 52,236 votes

    Any more falsehoods you want to peddle?

  15. Barry Summers

    This reminds me of something a co-worker said to me in the heat of the 2000 recount debacle:

    “The only reason Gore got more votes than Bush is because so many blacks voted for him.”

    Who can point out how this is both false AND racist?

  16. Piffy!

    the best part is how he posts under different names to try and get some kind of consensus for his lies and fabrications.

  17. Frank Ricci

    Barry, I said WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA. Not just Buncombe County. Here are the results for the 24 counties of WNC. As you can see, McCain won handily, and just barely lost the state as a whole.

    WNC = McCain(winner) 57% 333,983
    Obama 43% 252,338

    NC state = Obama(winner) 49.70% 2,142,651
    McCain 49.38% 2,128,474

    Western North Carolina by county:

    Alleghany = McCain 59.4% 3,124
    Obama 38.4% 2,021
    Ashe = McCain 60.6% 7,916
    Obama 37.3% 4,872
    Avery = McCain 71.5% 5,681
    Obama 27.4% 2,178
    Buncombe = Obama 56.3% 69,716
    McCain 42.4% 52,494
    Burke = McCain 59.0% 22,102
    Obama 39.8% 14,901
    Caldwell= McCain 64.1% 22,526
    Obama 34.4% 12,081
    Catawba= McCain 61.9% 42,993
    Obama 36.9% 25,656
    Cherokee = McCain 68.7% 8,643
    Obama 30.1% 3,785
    Clay= McCain 66.9% 3,707
    Obama 31.3% 1,734
    Graham = McCain 67.7% 2,824
    Obama 30.3% 1,265
    Haywood = McCain 53.1% 14,910
    Obama 45.4% 12,730
    Henderson = McCain 59.9% 30,930
    Obama 38.9% 20,082
    Jackson = Obama 52.0% 8,766
    McCain 46.6% 7,854
    Macon = McCain 59.9% 10,317
    Obama 38.4% 6,620
    Madison = McCain 50.0% 5,192
    Obama 48.4% 5,026
    McDowell = McCain 62.7% 11,534
    Obama 35.7% 6,571
    Mitchell = McCain 70.1% 5,499
    Obama 28.5% 2,238
    Polk = McCain 56.7% 5,990
    Obama 41.6% 4,396
    Rutherford = McCain 65.4% 18,769
    Obama 33.6% 9,641
    Swain = McCain 50.0% 2,900
    Obama 48.4% 2,806
    Transylvania = McCain 55.6% 9,401
    Obama 43.0% 7,275
    Watauga = Obama 51.3% 14,558
    McCain 47.0% 13,344
    Yancey = McCain 51.9% 5,045
    Obama 46.2% 4,486
    Wilkes = McCain 68.3% 20,288
    Obama 30.1% 8,934

  18. Ken Hanke

    the best part is how he posts under different names to try and get some kind of consensus for his lies and fabrications.

    Indeed. This is his most complex approach yet, though I realize part of it’s an outgrowth of the posing as a liberal in the Tim Johnson comments.

  19. Barry Summers

    This whole thread started by someone claiming that the ‘native Asheville view’ was conservative. I don’t care that some outlying counties in WNC voted for McCain. THIS town, THIS county, THIS state, and THIS country ALL voted in favor of Obama, and yet some will still claim supremacy for their conservative views.

    They know they are in the minority & feel persecuted, so they demand special treatment. Ain’t affirmative action grand?

  20. Ken Hanke

    yet some will still claim supremacy for their conservative views.

    The theory being that if they say it often enough people will believe it. The sad thing is that it sometimes works.

  21. Barry Summers

    Besides, look at those numbers. Add together Buncombe County & the 5 counties bordering us to the north, east, & west (leaving out only Henderson County to our south), Obama actually won the whole region. Where is the overwhelming ‘conservative’ mandate in those numbers?

  22. Barry Summers

    And I’m still just a little curious – is this the famous “Frank Ricci” that files lawsuits claiming ‘reverse discrimination’ against fire departments all over the northeast? Yeah, affirmative action is a drag, isn’t it?

    Again, if I’m mistaken, I apologize…

  23. Jeff Fobes

    Hmmm. I write my reflections on spending 15 years working on a “new journalism” project with a LOCAL FOCUS (or 22 years, if you count Green Line), and what do I get? A bunch of argumentation about Obama and liberals vs. conservatives and basically very little about whether Xpress is on target — except of course whether Xpress has an unspoken left-leaning bias.
    Keep in mind that at the LOCAL level, issues of left and right tend to evaporate. There remain a thousand thorny issues to deal with. The closest thing to liberal vs. conservative are the following: issues of property rights, local government’s role in general, civil rights, abortion rights (right to life), and whether or not we need to protect the environment and whether we believe there’s a climate-change going on.
    Mostly what I’ve seen at the local level is people’s ability to hear one another out — as long as they keep to local issues.
    I dare commenters here to keep this discussion on local issues — the area of focus for Xpress.
    Or talk about whether citizen journalism has a role to play … or whether grassroots activism is important to democracy … or whether an active, thoughtful citizenry can be promoted by the media.

  24. Brent Hunnicutt

    Thank you Mr Fobes. And you right. Local stuff is what we should be talking about. Here we got a Mountain Express employee, Ken Hanke, raggin on a man above just because he educate us on how WNC voted in the last election. Then this PFKAP guy calling the man a liar. I thank you Mr Fobes for speaking up here and clearing the air. The Mountain Express is a place to talk about local happenings and local stuff in politicks. I’m for letting Carl Mumpower ride along with the police and get these drug dealers off our streets. I’m for Mayor Bellamy sticking up for the local rec place we already got than going $500,000 in the hole to build a arts center with no gym.

  25. Barry Summers

    Jeff – I have a question. This goes to the paradox of what you’re trying to do here at Xpress: take a local paper onto a global platform, the internet. Around the topic of ‘localism’, what sort of discussion has taken place at Xpress about anonymous posting or sock puppetry? I know this leads quickly into vast & contentious subjects, but the reason I ask – the notion of having debates on local issues, traditionally, you have some notion of who you are debating. Whether it’s a town hall, protests on the public square, letters in the local paper, or what have you. I believe that if you have some confidence that you know who you’re talking to or listening to, people tend to be more intellectually honest, and less likely to engage in hateful or disruptive speech (although the recent town halls are a disturbing change). The internet is throwing that whole concept of ‘localism’ and honest debate into a blender. How concerned are you about the conflicts you’re likely to encounter as you try to take ‘localism’ global?

  26. Question Authority

    Barry, I have a question. You complain that posters are anonymous. Yet you are posting anonymously. What gives here? If you want everyone to post with their given name, then you yourself need to set the standard by posting with your real name. Or are you concerned about people holding you responsible for the thoughts you’ve posted here? It is quite clear that the real problem you have isn’t anonymity. It is conservative opinions being posted on Mountain Xpress.

  27. Barry Summers

    Question Authority

    I am not posting anonymously, except in the sense that I’ve been lazy & assumed that most people know who I am since I have been fairly vocal and visible over the years, & make no attempt to hide who I am. My name is Barry Summers, and for the past 12 years in Asheville, I have been seen & identified by name at street protests, city council and county commission meetings, newspaper and television interviews, etc. and for the past 5 years, I have been on a weekly radio show on WPVM. (All of that not because I’m great and wise, but because I can’t seem to shut up.)

    I post under ‘barry’ assuming that most people who are following a given topic will probably know who I am, not because I’m trying to hide my identity. It’s laziness on my part – I haven’t bothered to update my ‘profile’.

    And you twisted my point around. My problem isn’t ‘conservative opinions being posted on Mountain Xpress’, it’s the tricks that people play in an attempt to promote their views past those of their neighbors, or unfairly distort the dialog. In this case, people claiming that the Xpress is unfairly repressing conservative views, which is bunk, and then demanding that their views get special treatment.

    Posting anonymously and twisting someone’s words around, as you just did to me, is less likely, IMO, if you have to risk running into the other person in the street or at town hall, etc. This is the way that democracy started, with neighbors being willing to face each other & state their views. We’re moving into an age where no one has to take responsibility for their words. Why are people like you afraid to go around without a mask? This is the question that I put to Jeff & the Xpress: is it healthy for democratic discourse to allow people to hide or disguise their identities while talking about local matters?

  28. Question Authority

    “Any more falsehoods you want to peddle?” – Barry

    Well Barry, it is ironic that people often project their own faults onto others. I guess this is common because we all see through the filters of our own past experiences and political opinions. Above, you twisted a man’s post and said he was passing along falsehoods. It is you who didn’t read his post clearly. He said WNC went for McCain. Not Buncombe County alone. So, the irony here is that you committed the falsehood.

    I post under an anonymous name because I have a sensitive position in the community. And my liberal friends and acquaintances are not very tolerant of conservative views. Just like most liberals I have met in my life. I am an independent whose positions vary with the issue. Sometimes I agree with the liberals, usually in the area of social policy concerning personal freedom. I usually side with the conservatives when it comes to the size of government and the taxes we pay.

    By the way, I will bet $20 that you came here from the northeast, or perhaps Chicago. People from these areas often have made politics like a religion and believe that government can solve all our problems. Well I disagree. Government cannot solve all our problems. The burden is just shifted from one group to another. And in trying to “fix” life, government almost always makes things worse, and more expensive. The best rule of thumb is a person deserves most of the fruits of their own labor. High taxes, big intrusive government, rewards mediocrity and laziness. All you have to do is look at the failures of liberalism in the northeastern states, and the corruption in Chicago.

    The South is my home. It has always traditionally been libertarian. The South remains a place northerners want to move to precisely because we have keep our area attractive and a happy place to live. Because of our traditions and libertarian politics. If you want the political system of New York, New Jersey, Boston, or Chicago, move back there. We don’t want it here, locally.

  29. Question Authority

    Barry. Is that all you have to say about my response? Oh well. It is a great country isn’t it? And Asheville, North Carolina is the greatest part of the USA, in my humble opinion. Because traditional American values live on here. God bless the USA! Oh, and God bless NY, MA, NJ, CT, Chicago, Ohio, and wherever you are from originally. They’ll get it right one of these days!

    Local issues. For Council, I am pulling for Cecil, because I am opposed to the over development of Asheville. Cecil is his own man, and has the courage of his convictions. I like Mayor Bellamy a lot. She does a great job of managing the City and the Council and it’s diverse views. She is a consensus maker, and a true gem of a person. I also like Vice Mayor Jan Davis. These two are Asheville natives and look out for the interests of the average citizen. I also like Carl Mumpower, for the same reasons. He is from Asheville. He is a Vietnam combat veteran. He is his own man. He stands for what he thinks is right even when a crowd of others disagree.
    We are all so lucky to live in Asheville! Right-Middle-Left. There is something for everyone here in God’s country!

  30. AvlResident

    Jeff Forbes writes, ” . . .Hmmm. I write my reflections on spending 15 years working on a ‘new journalism’ project with a LOCAL FOCUS (or 22 years, if you count Green Line), and what do I get? A bunch of argumentation about Obama and liberals vs. conservatives and basically very little about whether Xpress is on target . . . There remain a thousand thorny issues to deal with. . . .I dare commenters here to keep this discussion on local issues—the area of focus for Xpress. Or talk about whether citizen journalism has a role to play.”

    Since the comments section is moderated, couldn’t you have moved this off-topic discussion to one of your forums, where it seems more properly to belong?

    Does this call into question the notion of “citizen journalism,” where the “citizens” do not have any professional standards to live up to?

    And, finally, perhaps this is the place to raise, once again, the question of why Mountain Express is not covering, in thorough, investigative detail, even in a serious of articles, the apparent turmoil going on a Mission Hospitals, which one of your own reporters has helped to publicize on his (independent) blog? Could there be many issues of greater importance to most citizens than the well-being of our major (only?) hospital? (Well, perhaps the well-being of our water system, also in turmoil, if the number of broken lines and highest rates in the state are any indication.)

    If the topic is journalism, media with a mission, as you call it, why are you assigning Mr. Sandford, who obviously is getting all kinds of information on the hospital mess through his blog, to cover in depth a event at the Orange Peel (worthy though it may be, but still essentially an entertainment event) rather than going full-force after the hospital story?

    I write as someone completely ignorant of the hospital and any of its staff, only as a concerned citizen. I am also concerned about having a really good newspaper in our town. Sadly, the Citizen-Times won’t ever fulfill that role. Some readers looked to Mountain Express to fill that gap.

    So what is your mission? To cover entertainment mostly (the Out and About model) or to uncover the functioning and dysfunctioning of officials and agencies that affect the vital interests of the public? As much as I admire and enjoy Mr. Hanke’s reviews, it sometimes seems that having good movies and a thriving film, youth culture and music scene is of more interest to your writers (and perhaps your readers) than some of the fundamentals: good medical care, good government, good utilities, good public safety.

  31. Jon Elliston

    AvlResident:

    You’re right that the hospital story is an important one. I’m happy to report that we are indeed working on a story about the matter. Stay tuned …

  32. Barry Summers

    I think that the Xpress is subject to the same pressure that all media in this country has been under for the past few decades – there’s no money in investigative journalism, especially if it pisses off commercial interests in your own town. No disrespect intended, Jeff, but I think you’d have to acknowledge that you’d be a fool to not be concerned about losing advertisers by being perceived as ‘too militant’ or ‘too liberal’ or ‘too’ whatever. How does your new journalism model balance the needs of a community for hard reporting versus something ‘warm & fuzzy’ that advertisers are comfortable with?

  33. AvlResident

    My newspaper dial is tuned to MountainX, eagerly awaiting hospital story.

  34. Barry Summers

    You post under “Question Authority”, but you say things like: “I post under an anonymous name because I have a sensitive position in the community.”?

    Whoa, it must suck to be you, hiding like that. Most conservative/libertarian types I know are proud of who they are, and while I might disagree with them, I respect people who stand up & say what they believe. Someone like Tim for example, who I’ve never met. Even though I disagree with him, he has the sack to say who he is & what he thinks in the public square. I would shake his hand & say “may the best man win”. Someone who claims that he can’t reveal his identity because “the liberals might be mean to me”…I have no respect for that.

    And it sucks for me to say that to someone – but I have no idea if you say who you say you are. You might be one of 10 sockpuppets run out of a basement in Candler. You might be an 8 year old girl in Poughkeepsie NY. What are you afraid of, really? This is America, whose strength is: citizens standing up & saying what they think. Not long ago, I stood up in front of a roomful of angry cops & told them I thought they needed a citizen’s oversight board. It was scary, but I survived & I know I earned a little grudging respect from some of them.

    You disrespect your friends & neighbors & co-workers by hiding who you are, and sadly, I have no respect for that.

  35. Jeff Fobes

    Barry and AvlResident raise concerns about anonymous postings and off-topic postings. Both of these bother me as well. But the Internet is a wild an evolving place, making it a moving, changing target. Some problems will work themselves out in the evolving process. The Internet is also a decentralized place, where anyone who tries to be the “cop” or authority will likely be run ragged.

    However, I keep thinking there may be some steps Xpress needs to take. Here are a couple ideas that occur to me:
    1)Give different weight and display to the commenters who have made their identity publicly known. Anonymous posters’ comments might be off to the side, like a peanut gallery.
    2)Off-topic postings might be moved off to the side by the moderator. Then we’d have, perhaps, three comment threads: on-topic down the center, off-topic on one side and anonymous to the other.

    AVLResident: Xpress is a mix of stories, perspectives, news, entertainment, arts coverage. There’ll always be people who argue Xpress is too much of this or that. I’m not always happy with our mix. I doubt that our editors or reporters are always happy with it. But I will argue that our editorial coverage is strong.

    Barry: I don’t see us radically changing our mix of investigative and “warm & fuzzy” (your phrase) stories. It’s an approach/mix that has been well received locally over the past 15 years. It is true that with more advertising dollars, we can increase our editorial staff and reporting. Xpress, like any media outlet, must remain sensitive to its community, which includes its readers and its advertisers. But in addition to being sensitive, we must also try to be leaders, which means holding ourselves to high standards, staying wide awake, in learning mode, and open to challenges.

  36. Question Authority

    “You disrespect your friends & neighbors & co-workers by hiding who you are, and sadly, I have no respect for that.”

    Barry, I’d say your disrespect is for the conservative point of view, and for the people themselves who disagree with you. As far as anonymity goes, many of the posts here are anonymous. It doesn’t make them any less valuable. I am proud of my views, which are my own. Unlike some, I am not in lockstep with any one philosophy or political party. I weigh all sides, then go with the one that most fits what I think is right. Some people wear their political views on their sleeve, and spend a lot of time in conflict with others because of it. Not me. I’d rather celebrate what we all have in common, whenever possible. “Debating” politics is often a waste of energy. Especially with those who have made it a religion.

    “It must suck to be you.”

    LOL, wow, can you wear that yourself Barry? Because you saying that says a lot more about you than you think it does about me.

    Jeff & Jon: y’all do a good job with Mountain Xpress. I come here for local news, both hard and entertainment.

  37. Barry Summers

    Question Authority – “I know you are, but what am I!”

    Jeff – I think the idea of a tiered comment area has possibilities, but I don’t envy anyone assigned the task of deciding what constitutes “off-topic” for a living.

  38. Question Authority

    “You disrespect your friends & neighbors & co-workers by hiding who you are, and sadly, I have no respect for that.”

    Barry, I’d say your disrespect is for the conservative point of view, and for the people themselves who disagree with you. As far as anonymity goes, many of the posts here are anonymous. It doesn’t make them any less valuable. I am proud of my views, which are my own. Unlike some, I am not in lockstep with any one philosophy or political party. I weigh all sides, then go with the one that most fits what I think is right. Some people wear their political views on their sleeve, and spend a lot of time in conflict with others because of it. Not me. I’d rather celebrate what we all have in common, whenever possible. “Debating” politics is often a waste of energy. Especially with those who have made it a religion.

    “It must suck to be you.”

    LOL, wow, can you wear that yourself Barry? Because you saying that says a lot more about you than you think it does about me.

    Jeff & Jon: y’all do a good job with Mountain Xpress. I come here for local news, both hard and entertainment.

  39. Piffy!

    [b]Indeed. This is his most complex approach yet, though I realize part of it’s an outgrowth of the posing as a liberal in the Tim Johnson comments. [/b]

    As i’ve said before, he’s growing as a ‘writer’. I’m not sure we should encourage him, but it is an interesting evolution to watch unfold…

  40. Piffy!

    [b]Hmmm. I write my reflections on spending 15 years working on a “new journalism” project with a LOCAL FOCUS (or 22 years, if you count Green Line), and what do I get? A bunch of argumentation about Obama and liberals vs. conservatives and basically very little about whether Xpress is on target—except of course whether Xpress has an unspoken left-leaning bias.[/b]

    Hmmm, well, if the moderators had enough common sense to keep the same person from posting under multiple unregistered names, and babbling on about his own bizarre and convoluted personal agenda, like he has done for years, maybe it wouldn’t.

  41. Piffy!

    great conversation, by the way, Jeff, in regards to potential structure for the MX Blogs. You should bring it over to the Forums. I recall Zen starting a similar conversation quite a while back. Much of the Expressengine format, or whatever ya’ll use seems kinda antiquated.

    i always like being able to vote a + or – or whatever on comments. As long as the same IP can only vote for something once, you get a clearer representation of public opinion, instead of one crazy guy agreeign with himself under different ‘fake’ names, like “Frank Ricci”

  42. Barry Summers

    …different ‘fake’ names, like “Frank Ricci”

    Yeah, I especially liked that one. Note to puppeteers: if you want to stay below the radar, don’t choose the name of the latest Republican poster child…

  43. AvlResident

    To Mr. Forbes:
    My concern was not necessarily the anonymity of comments or their being off-topic (a reader can certainly skip over the ones he or she doesn’t want to read and can usually evaluate the usefulness/uselessness of comments, anonymous or not). But on that matter, the NY Times groups comments this way:
    * All Comments
    * Editors’ Selections
    * Readers’ Recommendations
    * Replies

    My greater concern was “citizen journalism,” whatever that turns out to be, and how/if it enhances a “citizen reader’s” reliable information and understanding. Will there be “citizen editors” to edit the “citizen journalists?” I see even Wikipedia is having to institute more editorial control.

    You are of course the arbiter of the mix of your hard news/soft news and I’m sure it varies week to week. I’m not up to a detailed content analysis over an extended period, but it seems that recently the entertainment/soft news has predominated. I like entertainment news and features! But a city without a “real” newspaper with hot-on-their-heels reporters digging deeply into vital public matters can’t be a great city. You are obviously just don’t have the resources to hire enough news reporters and to divert any of them to spending days/weeks tracking down a difficult story. You need another Julian Price and another Fund for Investigative Reporting!

    That said, I sometimes question how you choose to allocate your scarce resources of reporters’ time and print space.

  44. My vote today, as was my vote when I was a staffer at MountainX, is that no anonymous blog posts be permitted.

    Comments by those who are unwilling to put their names behind their opinions are entirely worthless. (I’d be willing to make an exception for whistle-blowers revealing violations of the law or dangers to the public welfare whose personal safety or jobs are threatened by their revelations.)

    I’m advocating a public comment system for City Council as part of my campaign this year, and in my view such a feedback system would also require identification and possible ranking based on whether the commenter was a registered voter in the city.

    Permission of anonymous posting is poisonous. It entirely devalues the public conversation that modern media can facilitate. I have seen no argument, anywhere, that makes any kind of rational case for the value of anonymity in this medium. And, as Ken so sagely notes, it also permits one person to pose as many, further diluting the value of the discussion.

  45. AvlResident

    Mr. Bothwell writes, “Comments by those who are unwilling to put their names behind their opinions are entirely worthless.”

    Darn, there goes “Common Sense,” “The Federalist” and other worthless works published anonymously.

  46. Question Authority

    I disagree on the anonymity thing. All views should be accepted. I have read many a good viewpoint from anonymous posters here. What needs to be done, is better moderation of off-subject, and harrassing-trollish posts by anyone, anonymous or “real” name. You can start with the anonymous poster who goes by “The PFKaP”, who continually posts off subject and harrasses others.

  47. AvlResident

    As a candidate for public office, Mr. Bothwell might want to familiarize himself with the Supreme Court’s reasoning in

    JOSEPH McINTYRE, executor of estate of MARGARET McINTYRE, deceased, PETITIONER v. OHIO ELECTIONS COMMISSION.

    “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 64 (1960). Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names. [n.4] Despite readers’ curiosity and the public’s interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. [n.5] Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

    The freedom to publish anonymously extends beyond the literary realm. In Talley, the Court held that the First Amendment protects the distribution of unsigned handbills urging readers to boycott certain Los Angeles merchants who were allegedly engaging in discriminatory employment practices. 362 U.S. 60. Writing for the Court, Justice Black noted that “[p]ersecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.” Id., at 64. Justice Black recalled England’s abusive press licensing laws and seditious libel prosecutions, and he reminded us that even the arguments favoring the ratification of the Constitution advanced in the Federalist Papers were published under fictitious names. Id., at 64-65. On occasion, quite apart from any threat of persecution, an advocate may believe her ideas will be more persuasive if her readers are unaware of her identity. Anonymity thereby provides a way for a writer who may be personally unpopular to ensure that readers will not prejudge her message simply because they do not like its proponent. Thus, even in the field of political rhetoric, where “the identity of the speaker is an important component of many attempts to persuade,” City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. ___, ___ (1994) (slip op., at 13), the most effective advocates have sometimes opted for anonymity. The specific holding in Talley related to advocacy of an economic boycott, but the Court’s reasoning embraced a respected tradition of anonymity in the advocacy of political causes. [n.6] This tradition is perhaps best exemplified by the secret ballot, the hard won right to vote one’s conscience without fear of retaliation.

  48. Barry Summers

    Here’s my ideal compromise: Jeff’s suggestion of a segregated comment/forum. The main group is those verifiable identified posters, a second anonymous group, and an ‘off-topic’ group. My one suggestion would be this – require everyone, even those hoping to post anonymously, to supply a verifiable address/identity to Xpress, and everyone only gets one persona (anonymous OR identified, not both) to post under – no sock puppets. If you want to post solely in the peanut gallery, fine. But you don’t get to do it under 5 different names.

  49. Piffy!

    Well said, barry. What astounds me is the one or two idiots seems to really think no one recognizes they are the same people posting under different names, agreeing wiht themselves.

    frank ricci, footloose, etc etc etc…

  50. Barry Summers

    And I also find it sad that anyone would take advantage of hard-won freedoms to equate: “If I put my real name on this flyer demanding independence, the British will kill me & my family” with “If I put my real name on this blog entry slandering Brownie Newman, my liberal friends will be mean to me.”

  51. Ken Hanke

    And I also find it sad that anyone would take advantage of hard-won freedoms to equate: “If I put my real name on this flyer demanding independence, the British will kill me & my family” with “If I put my real name on this blog entry slandering Brownie Newman, my liberal friends will be mean to me.”

    An excellent point. Personally, I’d prefer that everyone use his or her real name, though I’m not morbid about it in terms of people who consistently — and very obviously — use the same name all the time and are at the very least registered under that name. “The (PKaP)” is an example, “Dread P. Roberts” is another, “Dionysis” is another. I’m used to them in these incarnations and they post consistently. They don’t just appear out of nowhere to stir things up or back up some other out of nowhere poster’s efforts to do that.

    The idea that a wholly anonymous post is as relevant as one that a person is willing to put his name to is pretty debatable. The ease with which this can be done on the internet is hardly on a par with printing anonymous books and pamphlets. (I don’t deny that a pamphlet on “common sense” by Cullen or Willard would be interesting to read.)

  52. Frank Ricci

    “And I also find it sad that anyone would take advantage of hard-won freedoms to equate: “If I put my real name on this flyer demanding independence, the British will kill me & my family” with “If I put my real name on this blog entry slandering Brownie Newman, my liberal friends will be mean to me.””

    Barry, look over some of the ‘liberal’ comments on this site. Look at a great cross section. You will find that many of my fellow liberals really slam anyone who dares give a comment that is ‘conservative’ or ‘non liberal’. If one is a businessman in town, then one’s business just may suffer from a ‘real name’ being used here. Perhaps you have a job that would not be affected by your political stances. That’s not the case for many people. If you work for Buncombe County, for instance, your name being tossed around in a forum is not good for the business of the County.

    So even though I use my name, I am in favor of people using pseudonyms if they wish. Because if one were, for instance the Director of Buncombe County Health Dept, a pseudonym is definitely the best choice for posting here. And does not detract one bit from the validity of the opinion or comment expressed, as long as the comment is within the bounds of civilized, polite conversation. Comments should be about issues, not personalities. I see too many posts here that attack the messenger of a point of view, usually the conservative point of view. I am for everyone speaking their peace. Afterall, that is what hard fought freedoms are all about.

    Misuse of pseudonyms? By people who post off topic and attack others personally. I think they are termed ‘trolls’ by the internet community. If one is using a pseudonum, and post off topic and insult people, then those posts should be removed and not allowed on line. That is the solution here.

  53. Barry Summers

    So you’re saying that this is your real name, ‘Frank’?

  54. Ken Hanke

    So you’re saying that this is your real name, ‘Frank’?

    Of course, he is. William P. Miller was a “real name,” too. And he’s claiming to be a liberal again.

  55. Barry Summers

    Once again,’Frank’, if I’m wrong about this I apologize. A quick perusal shows that you’ve never appeared anywhere in Asheville, online at least, until the ‘Frank Ricci’ from Connecticut testified against Sotomayor last month. Now he’s the new poster boy for the oppressed white male. And you have not responded to several semi-polite queries from me on the subject. I’m sure you can see why I’m skeptical that this is your real name.

    It’s one thing to adopt a pseudonym for all those plausible reasons stated above, but to actually lie about who you are?

  56. Question Authority

    “Personally, I’d prefer that everyone use his or her real name, though I’m not morbid about it in terms of people who consistently—and very obviously—use the same name all the time and are at the very least registered under that name. “The (PKaP)” is an example…”

    Hum, Ken Hanke has no problem with anonymous posters as long as they consistently post far leftwing views and kiss up at the correct times. He evidently thinks there can’t be more than one “conservative” (read evil republican) that would dare post here. So he lumps all the conservative posts together as the work of one person. Rofl, Ken, relax sir. Your leftwing views are secure within your own mind. Other points of view can be read by you safely.If you agree with them, then consider them. If not, pay no mind.

  57. Ken Hanke

    Hum, Ken Hanke has no problem with anonymous posters as long as they consistently post far leftwing views and kiss up at the correct times.

    I have no particular problem with “travelah” either and he is as right wing as they come. And I have no earthly clue who really is. The point is that I know who it is on the point of posting consistency. When some new — usually unregistered name — crops up saying the same old things in the same old ways of people who have been “banned,” that’s where my problem starts.

  58. Barry Summers

    Interesting. The poorly named “Question Authority” sock thinks that when one criticizes the tactics of some conservative posters, he is ipso facto unfairly criticizing conservative thinking in general. Wow, it must sock to be him.

  59. Jeff Fobes

    There’s a growing sentiment among Xpress staff that off-topic comments and anonymous poster/trolls are degrading the quality of discussions on the site. In light of this, we’re looking at ways to honor commenters who make their identities known and to downplay off-topic comments.

    Likely, we’ll still allow anonymous and off-topic comments, but they may be identified as such.

    We may allow KNOWN (nonanonymous) commenters to flag comments as off-topic, with moderators then making the decision whether to categorize the comment as off-topic. Once so categorized, the comment may be left in the thread, but downgraded in its presentation.

    KNOWN commenters’ comments may be given prominence in the comment thread.

    That’s what we’re discussing at this point.

  60. Barry Summers

    “Once so categorized, the comment may be left in the thread, but downgraded in its presentation.”

    What, you’ll put a silly hat on their avatar? Tim(1), I’m thinking of you.

  61. Barry Summers

    Sorry, Jeff. Couldn’t resist.

    I think this is a fine direction to go in.

  62. travelah

    I’ve used the moniker “travelah” for a long time and have shared my identity with intelligent inquirers several times. This is the only name I have used on MX and I suppose if it is cast off to a second class status to satisfy a small group of Tom, Dick, Harry and barrys, well, so be it. My libray needs tending.

  63. Barry Summers

    “I suppose if it is cast off to a second class status to satisfy a small group of Tom, Dick, Harry and barrys, well, so be it.”

    Yes, yes. Finally they’re getting it.
    It’s all about me.

  64. Piffy!

    Those are great ideas, Jeff. But it seems to me, and many others, obviously, that the problem isn’t ‘anonymous’ users–it’s the ONE or TWO people who post under multiple unregistered name attempting to bring up their one or two pet peeevs over and over and over. Hell, just in this thread, you can see the SAME PERSON posting under three different names.

    Get rid of those ONE or TWO people and the problem will essentially dissolve.

  65. Barry Summers

    I for one wouldn’t want to see anyone banned simply for trying to game the system – just make the system harder to game.

    Jeff – Is it possible to require even anonymous users to provide a verifiable identity? That way even if they want to stay anonymous online, they can’t register multiple times. The AC-T requires you to provide your address & phone number when you submit a letter, for verification purposes, even if they don’t print it. Why not do the same thing here?

    PFKaP – which would you rather have: these one or two guys tossed out altogether & feeling like martyrs, or watch them have to compete on a level playing field without sock puppets?

  66. Jeff Fobes

    Barry: At Xpress, we are looking at ways to verify commenters online identity. As you point out, the AC-T — and Xpress, as well — does that for letters to the editor. Anonymous online posters can have an important role, but it’s different than that of comments by people who identify themselves.

    In contrast to the trolling and razor tongues commonly found on websites, consider Asheville’s local Twitter stream, in which people know one another, and even gather at tweetups from time to time. In Twitter’s case, you see the opposite trend: Even people with antagonistic views make an effort to be tolerant and to argue fairly respectfully.

    If we’re going to build community, I believe the Twitter model is a better guide. I also believe that communities and their dialogues are like a garden: They need tending.

    On Twitter, people are not required to “follow you.” We may try making it much easier to “block” commenters that you find personally objectionable.

    Any changes we make, I see as part of the evolution of community discussion.

  67. Barry
    I would rather have the one guy that post under, Nam Vet, William P Miller, footloose, Frank Ricci kicked off. He and he alone seems to be the main offender.

  68. Ken Hanke

    I would rather have the one guy that post under, Nam Vet, William P Miller, footloose, Frank Ricci kicked off. He and he alone seems to be the main offender.

    There’s at least one other. The problem is how you do that. It’s not nearly as easy as it might sound. The best solution is the close monitoring of posts, but that’s time-consuming, not completely effective and ultimately probably expensive.

  69. Barry Summers

    If in fact this is one person, you can take care of the problem by requiring all users to provide a verifiable ID, whether they’re anonymous posters or not. Both AC-T and Xpress require this for letters in their print editions – why not carry that over online?

  70. Barry Summers

    “I can’t help but get the idea here that the sentiment to change things here is an attempt to quiet outspoken conservative commentators.”

    That’s because you’re a sockpuppet, and don’t really exist. As I’ve advocated, and as Jeff has indicated, the rule changes that are being discussed wouldn’t prevent any ACTUAL human beings from posting, only fictional characters like you.

    I’m curious – are those eyes sewn on, or glued?

  71. Barry Summers

    Sorry, ‘Frank’, I should’ve said that “in all likelihood” you’re a sockpuppet, and included the mandatory apologies if I’m mistaken.

    But seriously, glue or string?

  72. “I can’t help but get the idea here that the sentiment to change things here is an attempt to quiet outspoken conservative commentators.”

    No one has mentioned ‘travelah’ when it comes to banning and he is surely conservative. I rarely agree with his position, but sometimes I do; and I always am pleased with an alternate opinion.

    So Mr. pseudonym du jour, why don’t you have a steak, kiss a yankee, watch a John Water’s film, and then pick a name and stick with it. Who knows maybe you can find some common ground with a real person.

  73. Marcie Ellis

    JMAC, how about being nice for a change? Whenever I read one of your comments there is anger in it. Get over yourself will you?

    I am vegan. I don’t like John Waters’ films. Now are you going to make an angry post towards me too?

  74. “Marcie” when accused of being a sock puppet, I like your approach; make up another sock puppet.

    Cullen I cannot be angry at a fool.

    You should try Serial Mom by John Waters, it is fairly easy access.

    Congratulations on changing from a vegetarian to a vegan, I guess you finally realized that dairy farms do in fact kill cows.

  75. Barry Summers

    “You should try Serial Mom by John Waters, it is fairly easy access.”

    Or how about Waters film “Pecker” (calm down – it’s the main characters name). I believe one scene in it was the first mainstream example of “teabagging”, at least before the current hooplah.

  76. Larry the Elevator Man

    [b]I can’t help but get the idea here that the sentiment to change things here is an attempt to quiet outspoken conservative commentators.[/b]

    You opinions expressed here aren’t ‘conservative’, they are illogical simplitudes perpetuated by cable ‘news’ programs.

  77. Piffy!

    wut a coinkydink!

    While you’ve been stirring the local pot, i’ve been smoking it!

    I should have a weekly column about the various strains!

  78. Barry Summers

    Wow – while you’ve been wondering if our whole universe could exist in the thumbnail of some gigantic being, I’ve been wondering if a billion tiny universes could exist in my thumbnail. wow.

  79. I want to thank you for offering a place for all points of view, and your ever expanding efforts at interactivity with the locals.
    ” Keep fighting the good fight” (Molly Ivans).
    We need it.

    And:
    “All politics is local” Tip O’Neill

  80. I do like the “peanut gallery” option.
    However,
    I do understand the occasional need to post anonymously. Retaliation toward a “whistleblower ” can be swift and devastating, thus the occasional need to be able to pose a problem that affects many in an anonymous manner. Remember “deepthroat” kept silent to the end, for a very good reason.

    On the other hand outright personal attacks that serve no purpose than to vent one’s spleen should probably be put in file 13.

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