A look back at the year in media news in Asheville. Eight employees (including Ashvegas editor Jason Sandford and Susan Reinhardt) were laid off from the Asheville Citizen-Times, Mountain Xpress showed strain after about a third of its staff either quit or were let go, and Don Yelton made an impression with an unforgettable appearance on The Daily Show.
1. CITIZEN TIMES LAYS OFF EIGHT; GETS NEW PUBLISHER, EDITOR; PLANS TO ADD USA TODAY SECTION
In a move this summer that provoked community disapproval, the Citizen-Times laid off six newsroom employees, including Ashvegas blogger Jason Sandford and columnist Susan Reinhardt, arguably the most popular and well-known personality at the paper. Two other newspaper employees in other departments were also laid off.
Reinhardt had worked for the paper for more than 25 years, Sandford for 15. Sandford’s layoff story is here.
Citizen-Times publisher Randy Hammer retired just before the layoff announcement and was replaced by Dave Neill, formerly of the Naples Daily News. Neill comes with a reputation for strong and successful innovation in the marketing department: when Naples Daily News parent company Scripps released financial results, it often included a section singling out his paper’s performance.
The newspaper will also have a new editor next month. Josh Awtry will arrive in town in January with something uncommon on the AC-T staff: real Twitter expertise. Ashvegas notes in an earlier post that a Columbia Journalism Review piece notes Awtry’s work to redesign the newspaper where he’d worked previously, push newsroom personnel to focus on web metrics, and use social media channels to connect with readers.
Yet another big change coming for the local newspaper is the plan to add about a dozen pages of USA Today content to the local paper. It’s part of a Gannett-wide plan to boost USA Today’s circulation and ad rates while adding content to local newspapers.
2. MOUNTAIN XPRESS SHAKE-UP
Local alt-weekly Mountain Xpress also had a rough year, with at least 10 staff departures:
- Editors Peter Gregutt and Rebecca Sulock
- Food writer Emily Patrick
- Assistant Editors and Julia Ritchey and Jaye Bartell
- Staff Photographer Max Cooper
- Clubland Editor Dane Smith
- Calendar Editor Jen Orris
- Ad design and pre-press coordinator John Zara
- Art and design manager Carrie Lare
That’s 10 total, with six staffers leaving in one month. A letter written by former Xpress photographer Max Cooper to editor Margaret Williams, and leaked to Ashvegas, expressed concern over the staff resignations, good work by staffers replaced by “lackluster” freelance contributions, poor morale, and an “Art & Design manager who, by her own admission, cannot design covers.” Cooper was fired the day after delivering the letter.
In November, Xpress reporter David Forbes shared on his personal Facebook account that he and other Xpress staffers had begun talks with union organizers to address concerns about working conditions at Xpress.
3. DON YELTON MAKES AN IMPRESSION ON THE DAILY SHOW
The Daily Show came to Asheville, and correspondent Aasif Mandvi interviewed local Tea Partier and controversial conservative activist Don Yelton in a segment that New York Magazine called “the most baldy racist Daily Show interview of all time.”
Media reaction to Yelton’s interview was widespread and nationwide, with responses from Gawker, the WSJ, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, Salon and more. Yelton was asked by both county and state GOP leadership to resign from his post as precinct chairman, which he did the next day.
3. THE ‘RALEIGH DIGEST’
Readers of the Citizen-Times got a surprise when they received a day-before Thanksgiving edition of the paper that contained a politically biased advertorial tabloid insert, the “Raleigh Digest,” an insert that was not labeled as paid political advertising.
The paper swiftly distanced itself with a brief apology, stating that its political advertising policies were under immediate review.<
In an interview, Moffitt offered WLOS a very different take on the Raleigh Digest, saying his publication was not advertising at all, but stands as a new WNC news source.
4. NEW REPORTERS AT WLOS
Popular WLOS reporter Russ Bowen left the mountains for KOMO-TV in Seattle and several new reporters were hired, notably investigative reporter Mike Mason. Other new reporters in 2013 include award-winner Kimberly King (another investigative reporter), and hedge fund trader-trader-turned journalist Evan Donovan.
Mason started stirring the pot right off the bat, with reports on school safety and restaurant inspection violations, and something I can’t remember ever seeing before: an hour-long, eye-opening investigative TV special on a local issue of serious concern – groundwater contamination at the former CTS plant in Swannanoa.
The culmination of six months of investigation, Buried Secrets was an expose of a toxic waste leak that residents allege has caused cancer and even death among some residents living near the former CTS industrial site. An attempt to make sense of a tangled, decades-old mess of resident outrage, sickness, and neglect and malfeasance from CTS officials and the EPA alike, the program aims to kickstart consideration of a new federal investigation.
5. WUNDER SILENCED, LE ARRESTED
Popular mid-day meteorologist Julie Wunder was sidelined for weeks by the latest grueling round in her fight with severe sinus issues and sinus surgery this spring. And reporter John Le and his wife were both arrested at their apartment in Brevard and charged with misdemeanor assault after a domestic dispute.
6. BARB BLAKE: 40 YEARS IN NEWSPAPERS
Blake celebrates 40 years with the Citizen-Times this month, a career lovingly recounted by her daughter Casey Blake, who also writes for the paper. From Casey’s article:
She has won an array of the state’s highest writing honors — including the only two Thomas Wolfe Awards to be won by anyone at the Citizen-Times since the 1970s.
But her legacy, I think, is in the rules she’s changed.
It’s one of the most important and difficult tenets of good journalism to keep a safe distance from your stories — never feeling too strongly or becoming too personally invested in any one subject or source.
There’s no crying in newspapers.
But the magic in Barb’s reporting is that she feels the stories she writes, with an unapologetic empathy that makes us feel them too.
7. NPR’S ‘WAIT WAIT’ IN ASHEVILLE
The popular NPR show was filmed live in Asheville this summer at the Thomas Wolfe, complete with Peter Sagal making appearances around town.
Panelists were Roxanne Roberts, Brian Babylon and Bobcat Goldthwait, and the “Not My Job” contestant was Charles Frazier, the local author who who wrote Cold Mountain.
Virato, who was born Joseph Bancaskas, the man behind New Frontier magazine, Asheville Magazine and popular local New Age radio shows died this spring. Virato’s online biographies state that he was a former Fortune 500 corporate executive, “world lecturer,” “shape shifter,” psychotherapist, and “tantric master” descended from medieval Lithuanian royalty, with a radio-show audience of 400,000.
A colorful, complex and controversial figure in Asheville and on the national New Age scene, he also arranged “tantra parties” locally and seemed to be in the business of introducing American men to Russian brides. The Ashvegas post on his death received loving comments from people remembering his kindness and helpfulness, as well as comments from people claiming to be family members and alleging abuse and abandonment.