Tapping into the local debate

In the days before commenting on websites, Facebook and other social-media platforms, Mountain Xpress got readers talking each week. Every issue featured two, three and sometimes four commentaries, often from wildly different worldviews. The Aug. 31, 1994, Xpress featured four, including the first “Gospel According to Jerry [Sternberg].”

Readers reacted strongly to Sternberg’s support for tough discipline and Owen High School Principal Fred Ivey, who had been fired for such actions as allegedly punching a student. One reader accused Sternberg of taking “a cheap shot” at the boys who had been involved in the central incident, although another concluded, “Mr. Sternberg is entitled to his opinion.”

In the ensuing weeks, the letters kept coming. In the Sept. 14 issue, local activist Monroe Gilmour took Sternberg to task, accusing him of bravado and being misinformed and asking if he knew about efforts by the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council to investigate what had been happening at Owen. On Sept. 21, a Black Mountain resident wrote, “Sternberg [has] subjected Mountain Xpress readers to a warped, moralistic reminiscence of a father who believed that if one beating was good, two were better.” And the week following, another reader wrote, “Mr. Sternberg’s father must have hit him on the wrong end a few times in that old woodshed.”

Some other topics that Xpress commentators covered generated lots of feedback: Meredith Hunt’s anti-abortion crusade, the UNC Asheville development of Chestnut Ridge and the economic benefits of tourism. As a policy, Xpress remained committed to including views that might seem anathema to fellow locals, though.

By the way, Sternberg still writes for Xpress.


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