What’s going on at Mountain Xpress? Internal emails reveal dismay at 6 resignations in recent weeks

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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mountainxlogoSix key employees of Asheville’s alternative news weekly, the Mountain Xpress, have tendered their resignations over the past few weeks. The departures have shocked and dismayed the remaining employees, as the internal emails below show. Outwardly, there is no apparent connection between the resignations, but because so many key employees leaving all at once, the exodus has many asking, “What’s going on at Xpress?” It’s a high number for the newspaper, which only has a total staff of about 50 30 people.

I’ve talked to a few folks, and nobody is saying anything more than those who have left were leaving for various personal reasons.

Who’s gone or in the process of leaving? Here’s the list: Arts and entertainment editor Rebecca Sulock; food writer Emily Patrick; assistant editor Jay Bartell; ad design and pre-press coordinator John Zara; art and design manager Carrie Lare; and graphic designer Sarah Riddle. These are all key positions.

Here’s some internal email correspondence that reveals the dismay at Xpress:

Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:31:06 -0400
I second […]’s suggestion here. We’ve lost six folks in the last month
and it’s hard on all of us.
Best of luck to Carrie, John and Sarah. Working with you all has been an
amazing experience.

Subject: Re: More staff changes
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:22:59 -0400
I agree with […] that perhaps we should have a serious discussion
about staff retention and how we can better support and hold on to the
talented people we already have.

Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:18:01 -0400
This is shocking and disheartening. Regardless of the various reasons
for so many folks leaving in the past month, it seems that this warrants
on office-wide discussion about the vision of the company going forward.
I, for one, want to make this work. But I’m deeply concerned about this
latest news. How can we better support the needs of our coworkers and
the paper to put an end to this trend of abandoning ship?


Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:07:51 -0400
Subject: More staff changes
From: Jeff Fobes <[email protected]>
I’m sorry to have to announce additional staff turnover — just as we’re starting to respond and cope with three departures from the Editorial Department.
In this case, I learned earlier today that three members of our Art & Design Department — John Zara, Sarah Riddle and Carrie Lare — are giving their notice, each for separate personal reasons.
We’ll miss them, for they have all been mainstays, making Xpress looking good, delivering effective advertising and helping keep numerous internal gears turning.
Want ads for those positions are in the works.
As you can imagine, all this turnover is tough for an organization. But from where I sit, it’s something that must be dealt with. We’ve faced change and challenges over the years. This is one more.
Facing up to these challenges creatively, with passion and idealism, takes commitment. For me, that commitment is a given because I believe to the bottom of my heart in what we’re trying to do. To reiterate our task: Through locally focused reporting and civic dialogue — to stimulate an amazing town and region to be even more remarkable, grassroots-based, creative, tolerant and enterprising.
At a time when most media operations are laying off personnel and downsizing — we’re, somewhat ironically, faced with empty job positions to fill. The silver lining to the shake-up, the lemonade to be made out of lemons, is that this is an opportunity to reinvent and improve ourselves through new hires that fit into a reorganized and rededicated company.
We’ve already made significant changes in the Editorial Department: unifying the department, learning to work more collaboratively, distributing some traditional editor functions to staffers, reformulating the positions of A&E editor to that of coordinator, and food-section writer to food-section coordinator. These changes should make Xpress more responsive, resilient and efficient — and a more exciting place to work.
As we interview candidates, I am repeatedly asking myself: Is there a better way to accomplish our mission than what we’ve been doing, and what does this candidate offer that will help us do that?
I know this is a demanding time. I hope that you’ll join with me in leading Xpress through these changes to make it an even better community partner.

Subject: [xpress staff] Assistant Editor Jaye Bartell is “moving on”
Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2013 14:43:46 -0400
To: allstaff Staff <[email protected]>
Assistant Editor Jaye Bartell let us know today that he’s “moving on.”
He’s returning to the Northeast, where he’ll be closer to family in
Boston and can focus more time on his various creative endeavors. In
case you didn’t know, Jaye has an album that releases in October.
Congrats to him on that accomplishment, and all the best to him!
He’ll remain on duty through early October.
Margaret Williams
Managing Editor
(828) 251-1333, ext. 152
[email protected]
Mountain Xpress

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Emily Patrick September 27, 2013

    I hope the community will treat me with courtesy. Please be careful about calling people out, even if you’re doing it indirectly.

    I won’t stoop to defending myself, but neither you nor Jeff has evidence that I’ve leaked anything. I can say that with certainty. I think you will find my conduct has been unimpeachable.

  2. Emily Patrick September 27, 2013

    Hi Leaky Damn and all,

    Since my integrity has been called into question here, I would like to remind everyone that what we put on the Internet could damage the people involved. I’ve been a conscientious member of Asheville’s media, and I ex

  3. Leaky Damn September 26, 2013

    According to multiple inside sources, at a meeting called after the Ashevegas leaks, Fobes referred to himself as Emperor. He implied that Emily Patrick had probably leaked the e-mails. After Best Of, nobody was allowed to speak critically of the million crappy categories and nobody got bonu$e$ despite profit$. An environment of fear. List goes on.

  4. Media Watcher September 25, 2013

    Ashvegas, please give us your take on the situation at MX.

    1. Jason Sandford September 25, 2013

      Hey Media Watcher,
      I saw your earlier comment and honestly don’t know what to think. It’s clear that the resignations are not just a coincidence. But I don’t have enough information from workers past or present to form an opinion. There’s a lot of innuendo, but so far, I haven’t heard any specifics about what’s happening. I do have a comment from Sammie Cox, a former Mountain Xpresser who left a couple of years ago, that I am preparing to post. That’s all I’ve got for now.

      1. Media Watcher September 25, 2013

        Thanks, Ashvegas. You may have some insight about Jeff Fobes’ management style, and if that’s part of the problem, but I can well understand you would not want to share that. Of course Fobes’ owns the joint, doesn’t he, so he can run it any way he wants to. Presumably until advertising revenues fall, he has no reason to change either his business model or his journalism model.

  5. Jack Nicholson September 23, 2013

    It’s pretty simple of the mast turnover at the Xpress. All of the great talent that left the paper did not leave for another job, but left because they don’t want to work under a DICKtatorship.

  6. Grumpy-reader September 23, 2013

    Just ask the following questions: Why did Jeff Fobes hire his girlfriend (Susan) as advertising manager and “assistant to the publisher.” Did she have any prior experience in journalism? And why is Peter Gregut gone? That guy was the backbone of Express. He was there since day one, and before that when it was a newsletter for the greenies. What happened to the investigative journalism? Why should Asheville be expected to buy this bullsh#t excuse of “it’s coincidental” that so many trusted employees jumped ship?

  7. James Fisher September 23, 2013

    That’s some key talent! I left Xpress after 16 years back in 2011. It’s stunning how many folks have left even in that short span. I had the pleasure of working with Rebecca, Carrie and Jaye and they were, indeed, “key”…I know from personal experience that a series of questionable upper management decisions in the mid-late 2000’s made the work atmosphere quite tough. Oh well, the only constant is change itself. The community is a better place with multiple, vibrant media sources and so I sincerely hope Jeff Fobes’ sentiments come to fruition. Good luck, Xpress!

    1. Sammy Cox September 25, 2013

      James, I agree with your ‘good neighbor’ commentary about “multiple, vibrant media sources.” A community newspaper represents the region they publish in. This representation is expressed in the editorial content, the reader audience and the newspaper’s staff. Here in Asheville and Western Carolina, we live in a wonderful melting pot of cultures, lifestyles and diversity. Xpress always has had a huge, blind white spot when it comes to staffing and content diversity.

      But so do a lot of other altweeklies. At the Association of Alternative Newsmedia annual conference in New Orleans in 2011, one attendee reported, “The association has no figures, but their staffs seem to be whiter than their mainstream counterparts, the dailies.” The panel discussion was entitled, Why are your readers so white?

      With all the new job openings left vacant from Xpress’ recent departures, maybe they’ll take some of the advice that Donna Ladd of the Jackson Free Press encouraged at the AAN convention, “I hope that attendees will go back home and really think about your call to diversify their staffs and content.”

  8. pete smith September 22, 2013

    Maybe be nice to employees and thank them for their hard work?

  9. Craig September 21, 2013

    I don’t have anything to do with MXPress but I have problems with the ethics of reprinting the internal emails of another publication. This isn’t Snowden revealing mass international snooping, this isn’t city hall corruption, this is just chatter. I don’t think it rises to the level.

  10. Sarah September 21, 2013

    6 people leaving… “unrelated” and “for personal reasons” ? Unlikely!

  11. chett September 21, 2013

    running THE BEST OF POLL ALL year long seems to have taken its toll

    1. IceNine September 23, 2013

      Ditto that. There are now so many ‘best of’ categories, it has almost become irrelevant and a waste of time to even vote…

  12. Harry Sax September 21, 2013

    When did this blog turn into TMZ?

  13. Media Watcher September 21, 2013

    You’re asking your readers “what’s going on?” You’re the ultimate media insider in Asheville (access to MX emails!) and probably know more than you’re willing to share. . . .at this point. Asheville media watchers would love to hear from you about “what’s going on” at MX. The Bartell departure seems to be about a life-and-location change, not necessarily connected with office turmoil. And didn’t Roney leave as well? C’mon, Ashvegas, don’t tease us like this. We’re sure you’ve still got your moles at MX and C-T.

  14. Dmitri Raveninoff September 21, 2013

    Wow, good reporting, Jason.

    I’ve had quite a few conversations with MX staffers over the years and there’s always been a bit of frustration coming from them. Pretty much EVERYONE hates their website. You can find better WordPress layouts for free. I’ve also heard grumbling about pay quite a few times.

    I think the MX has an amazing opportunity with the continued desiccation of the Citizen-Times. When I moved here 12 years ago I never missed an issue. Very rare that I make the time to grab one these days. More investigative journalism would help. If you’ve ever read Creative Loafing in Charlotte or the Indy in the Triangle, then you have a pretty good idea of what the MX *could* be.

    Seems like Fobes realizes this is a chance for them to make meaningful changes. I for one hope that happens.

    1. Jason W. September 23, 2013

      “If you’ve ever read Creative Loafing in Charlotte or the Indy in the Triangle, then you have a pretty good idea of what the MX *could* be.”

      Or maybe say, The Village Voice.

      1. Big Al September 24, 2013

        Please don’t become like the Indy in Durham. I read it from 1987 until 2008 (and still do on occasion). It is far too PC, even after incorporating (assimilating??) the more moderate/conservative Spectator.

  15. Ian C. September 21, 2013

    Sorry to hear about all these departures. But I’ve really enjoyed Emily Patrick’s work as food writer. She didn’t even have that gig for very long, did she?

    If all for separate reasons, that’s one hell of a coincidence.


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