Mountain Xpress got it wrong with David Forbes’ flagging piece on the so-called internal disputes at URTV [“Whose TV?” Feb. 25]. For starters, the title on the cover—“Changing Channel?”—is a convoluted double-entendre that ultimately does not work. Is Forbes suggesting that the channel is changing its philosophy midstream because it is not doing more to “partner with UNCA and A-B Tech,” [which would make] a public-access channel look more like a government-access channel? Or is it changing by suspending a bellicose producer who violated on-air, for-profit advertising bylaws? Or, is the title meant to suggest that Xpress readers should all just change the channel and abandon the public-access ship?
I have been professionally producing video for eight years in Asheville and producing for URTV since it began its operations, and the only real change that I have noticed is that after all the would-be producers soon realized that the staff was not going to do the hard work to make their programming ideas a reality, the numbers of paying members significantly dropped off. The frowning-face cover art is symbolic of the Xpress’ overall misrepresentation of the situation, suggesting that there is a general unhappiness among the greater URTV membership. But is that an accurate representation? We will never know, because the journalist here didn’t bother to contact more than a mere handful of the 200-plus happy members while he was doing all his crackerjack investigative journalism. (Forbes never contacted me, even after I spoke at length with his managing editor about this very issue for almost an hour last week.)
Now let’s look at the integrity of the subtitle: “Inside the URTV Disputes.” Forbes no more got inside the URTV disputes than he could get outside of a paper bag. He let two disgruntled board members chew his ear off about minor nonissues and ran with it. Getting one side of a negligible story from two unhappy people is hardly getting inside the disputes.
Now, let’s look at the integrity of the piece itself and ask ourselves why Forbes might have gotten stonewalled by Pat Garlinghouse, Jerry Young, the rest of the board and the sterling URTV staff, and eventually had to lean on a completely separate issue regarding PEG funding and the greater economic situation in order to get the story out the door on crutches. When you [combine] a separate funding issue with your so-called “disputes” issue and declare the clock to be “ticking,” you make it seem like future funding cuts might be related to these two disgruntled people griping about whether or not URTV has reached out enough to “partner with the community” or worked hard enough to retain some dead-weight members. These separate issues should not have been conflated—as tempting as it was—given the awful slump in the dramatic arc of the original lead. (That funding issue should have stayed in the subsequent county-commission article, “Saving Lives Trumps Saving Money,” where it belonged.)
OK. So what are we left with? Not much. You have a bunch of he-said without the she-said: spurious claims made by two disgruntled board members. I think if Forbes had done a modicum of investigation of the people that actually utilize URTV’s good services, he would have found that most people paid the new $75 fee this year because they enjoy the wonderful opportunity URTV offers to our citizenry in the midst of a stark media environment dominated by a few massive, profit-driven corporations.
— David Connor Jones
Reporter David Forbes responds: The title and cover image were meant to reflect that URTV is facing changing times and “troubles”—a term used by both critics and supporters of the current management. The article detailed some specific “troubles,” such as questions about transparency, membership and programming, and discussed the possible loss of state PEG funds and the upcoming renewal of URTV’s management agreements, which loom over the whole scene. We quoted extensively from e-mails and statements representing the position of board members who support management, including the board chair, even though those members refused to comment directly to Xpress when invited. We offered statements from long-time producers who support URTV’s management in addition to statements from board members who are critical of that management. I believe that ongoing disputes, questions of state law and the removal of board members at an important local media outlet are matters of public interest with news value.