Xpress embarks on 25th year of covering WNC

VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1: The first copies of Mountain Xpress hit newsstands on Aug. 10, 1994, with a cover story from Cecil Bothwell that cast a critical eye on the D.A.R.E. drug education program.

In small letters running up the left-hand side, the volume number on the cover of this week’s Xpress  — 25 — marks a milestone. With this edition, we enter our 25th year of covering the news, arts and culture of Western North Carolina. As the number of truly independent local news outlets continues to decline across the country, we count ourselves both fortunate and grateful to continue to enjoy the support of advertisers and readers in our community.

Emerging from seven years of the activist publication Green Line, a monthly tabloid newspaper dedicated to environmental and other progressive issues, Xpress grew out of founder and Publisher Jeff Fobes’ realization that a publication that reflected the convictions of only part of the community would mainly preach to the choir and fail to build real community dialogue. Generous philanthropic support early on — from Julian Price, a couple other local backers and a couple hundred supportive readers — allowed the new media operation to find its feet and lay the groundwork for serving a broad range of readers and interests.

A rogue’s gallery of courageous, innovative, locally obsessed, mostly young professionals dreamed up the design and content, notably art director Rob Hammonds, general manager Carey Watson, managing editor Peter Gregutt and Fobes.

As the paper found its groove, new features and sections evolved while keeping the focus local (where the impact of citizen action is greatest). In December 1994, reporter Margaret Williams carried pen and notebook to a meeting of Asheville City Council, kicking off a longtime focus on holding local government accountable to the public. In 1995, Xpress published its first Best of WNC survey and guide of readers’ recommendations. Our standalone dining guide, then called Blue Ridge Flavors, first appeared in 1998. In October 2006, the paper’s Food section began to take form with an article by Hanna Raskin, who in 2017 won a James Beard award for her work as Charleston, S.C.-based Post & Courier’s food editor and critic. The Wellness section debuted in 2011. In 2013, we produced the first official AVL Beer Week Guide and, the next year, we developed our annual Craft Week guide.

Primary and general election voter guides have long been a mainstay of Xpress, and readers tell us ours is the resource they carry into the voting booth with them. Coverage of environmental issues and the city’s dynamic arts and entertainment scene have figured prominently in our pages from the very beginning.

We’ve had some wild times over the course of our run so far — really, publishing a hybrid community/alternative news weekly is a great gig — and we continue to evolve in response to our readers’ interests and advertisers’ needs. In the last couple of years, we’ve:

  • Featured local crossword-puzzle makers, photographers, fiction writers, poets, kids, nonprofits and many other contributors.
  • Launched our annual Give!Local campaign, which in its three years of existence has helped 73 selected local nonprofits raise $228,000.
  • Converted our Community Calendar to a new technology platform that offers great functionality, including on mobile devices, while continuing to run the full calendar section in print.
  • Introduced Asheville Archives, a weekly history feature based on original sources that provides relevant glimpses into the region’s past.
  • Published the area’s most comprehensive beer coverage.
  • Continued our coverage of local government, providing previews and coverage of all meetings of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council, in addition to other area municipalities and issues.
  • Published letters to the editor on a staggering variety of topics of local concern, many with responses from the politicians or organizations named in the letters.
  • Rolled out weekly theater reviews, providing the area’s only ongoing coverage of the local theater scene.

We look forward to continuing to grow and change with the community. What won’t change is our commitment to promoting community dialogue and encouraging citizen activism on the local level. In the coming months, we’ll be letting you know how you can help us continue to serve as your independent local news source. In the meantime, you can do your part to keep these weekly issues coming by picking up a print copy each week and supporting the businesses that advertise in our pages.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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