Letter: Local media need greater diversity

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I am writing this letter to ask that both readers, listeners (radio), watchers (TV), editors and owners of various area mass media look at their staffs and their coverage for bias in hiring and coverage based on a failure to diversify their hiring and coverage.

I have observed that if you take a look at all media in Asheville, especially the Asheville Citizen-Times and WLOS, you will find that all of the local media, for whatever reason, institutional racism perhaps, have failed to diversify their employee base and are very white-dominated, and that sends a message to children and area subscribers and residents that for the most part, these important community info givers only hire whites and provide a Caucasian perspective in their daily reporting.

I would compare this to the news coverage in South Africa under apartheid and add that this is something that has been common practice here since the beginning of any of these local media entities. This has to change someti­me, and I am writing this letter in the hope that those who are in control of local media see it, think about it, realize that my point here is valid and make changes in the future.

I have to believe that our children must not continue to grow up seeing very little diversity in local media and instead see that everyone here has a possible future reporting the news in Asheville and Western North Carolina.

— John Penley

Editor’s note: When contacted, the Citizen-Times and WLOS declined to offer a response. As a small, alternative outlet, our goal at Xpress is to hire qualified people with a passion for community journalism. We actively seek to avoid discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation in our hiring, promotion and compensation practices.

Concerning Xpress’ coverage, we have frequent newsroom discussions to watch for and compensate for biases and blind spots.

The reasons for the U.S. media’s failure to diversify are many and complex, and can ultimately be traced to society as a whole. Yet different media operations have different dynamics: Contrast large with small ones; compare national with local, niche with mainstream.

Agreed, the distortions of the media tend to perpetuate systemic problems in society. They send bad messages to our children (and the rest of us).

While there is value in comparing the U.S. to South African apartheid in regard to white ownership of the media, some key parallels fail — one of them being our Constitution’s First Amendment and related laws that permit any individual or group to establish and operate a media operation.

We hear Mr. Penley’s concern, however, and take it to heart. Racial diversity should extend to media operations and its voices. We can’t make that a reality alone, but we want to do our part. We welcome contributors and applicants from diverse backgrounds as well as suggestions on how we might better reflect the many perspectives in our community.



About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

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.

11 thoughts on “Letter: Local media need greater diversity

  1. Grant Millin

    MX ran my press release on an event for people with disabilities recently, which is basically impossible to move forward on because actually I sense a powerful community apathy towards the idea of PwDs complaining in an organized way. Most certainly Asheville and Buncombe County’s Agenda for People with Disabilities is not designed to be a giant whining forum but something new and powerful for the 25,000+ PwDs trying to make like happen in Asheville and Buncombe County.

    MX also recently ran a story on some folks attempting to revive the COA Mayor’s Committee on Citizen’s with Disabilities (MCCD). MCCD is not active, has not met since 2013, and city hall does not respect PwDs’ first amendment rights enough to even so much as delete the MCCD web page from the COA website. It’s okay, I archived the MCCD web page and when we get a better mayor and city manager we can put the MCCD back in motion in a serious way.

    I have a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion solution that helps those experiencing race impacts, includes PwDs, and also LGBTQ community members, all experiencing social and economic disadvantage. But folks learning about all that means community focus on the June 3 PwD Agenda workshop which is rescheduled from May 6… and may still be cancelled:


    The reason I bring all this up is that in the following statement MX skips Americans with disabilities. I won’t do anything about it but it is best for our major institutions to have clear statement as to at least not actively discriminating against PwDs. I can imagine MX has successfully employed many PwDs over the years—whether or not any ADA accommodations were involved or whether the PwD even mentioned their disability to MX management. Also PwD employment is not a mandate. The PwD has to get the job done.

    “We actively seek to avoid discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation in our hiring, promotion and compensation practices.” – Mountain Xpress

    Actually the MX.com About Us section is unclear on the specific matter of PwD inclusion: https://mountainx.com/about/.

    This comment is not just about MX. I think ‘Inclusive Asheville’ can go further on PwD justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy. I will try the PwD Agenda later, or it may just disappear as an option.

    To give credit where credit is due the Rotary Club buying a hearing loop for city council chamber is a good thing. Also that Universal Design is in the COA Comprehensive Plan should be of major local interest. For whatever reason that PwD strategy is also in the Community Awareness Blackhole.

    • Jeff Fobes

      Grant: Our response was not a full statement of our policy, which is: “Mountain Xpress is committed to providing a work environment that is free from discrimination based upon an individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, familial status, genetic information, age, disability, religion or any other legally protected characteristics (“protected class”). All employees, including supervisors and other management personnel, are expected and required to abide by this policy.”

      • Grant Millin

        It’s something. Like I said, my guess is a lot of organizations in Asheville have had PwD workers.

        Too bad the PwDs are not nearly as well represented as their numbers should facilitate.

    • Grant Millin

      I have a rule about not responding to anonymous avatars, but otherwise that’s a good area of inquiry I believe many are looking into. People with disabilities and the PwD acronym is the best thing I’ve seen in recent years. It attaches the human and the soul to the disability—or physical or other human difference.

      I and others have asked MX to stop allowing comments from anonymous avatar. More folks should be covering PwD issues in the open.

      • Curious

        And I have a rule about responding to people who complain because I try not to insert myself personally into issues I’m trying to be informed about. But I do appreciate being called an avatar:
        plural noun: avatars
        a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher.

  2. The Real World

    There have been numerous letters to Mountain X over the years where locals complain about a lack of racial diversity in a variety of industries here. Sigh…….. and the answer as to why remains the same.

    My intent is not to offend the letter writer but, perhaps, some embarrassment on his part is in order. I will provide the readily available answer for anyone who cares to take two minutes and search the internet.

    It’s not racism, John. Please ditch what the mainstream media and politicians are trying to fill your head with and look around yourself. You’ll find that much of what they promote is not true. Buncombe County demographics = White – 83.6%; Black – 6.6%; Hispanic/Latino – 6.5%; Asian – 1.3% https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/37021 That IS our racial composition. Where is all the ethnic diversity in local media supposed to come from when it’s not here to begin with?!! How many years have you lived here?

    For the love of God, please stop trying to create issues where they don’t exist. Think for yourself, talk to people and look around.

    • Phil Williams

      Oh Mercy – I remember the “compliance” hassle we used to get from the State and Federal EEO folks when I worked for a highway contractor who received Government funds on many projects….the demographics were just not in WNC for our hiring to represent many races or ethnicities….we had 3 blacks, no Asians/Pacific islanders (unless you counted one guy in the office whose mother was Thai but he identified himself as “white”) perhaps a dozen Native Americans out in the far West corner of NC. We did employ a lot of Hispanic men, though – I would say at times a 4th of our total workforce was Hispanic. Folks of many races didn’t last in the job, as most of the work was hard physical labor often in difficult environmental conditions.

  3. Deplorable Infidel

    Thank you RW for clarifying the matter for the clueless, of which there are many in AVL.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.