We appreciate the Mountain Xpress’ acknowledgement of unconscious bias in the recent “Big Ideas” history of Asheville (Jan. 8-15). And we accept XPress’ offer to engage the community in “ongoing civic dialogue.”
However, we believe that this dialogue must be more substantial than a brief, unsigned response in the letters to the editor section of the print version of the XPress, and more substantial than the XPress’ commitment to update their timeline (presumably online).
One reason that we chose to use an “open letter” format and to publish online rather than just to submit our letter as letter to the editor is that we believe the problem is bigger than just one article and deserves more attention than the typical response from the Xpress editors.
The response printed by the Xpress to the concerned community of Asheville regarding their lack of diversity for women and people of color in their stories left many of the original signers of the letter baffled, confused, and disappointed.
The backbone of an organization’s values is displayed in their mission statement, and the Mountain Xpress’ mission reads as follows:
“To build community and strengthen democracy by serving an active, thoughtful readership at the local level – where the impact of citizen action is greatest.
We understand that newspapers and online publications operate under deadlines. And we believe that a time crunch should never get in the way of living up to your values, mission, or beliefs. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, think about the XPress’ actions over the course of the past decade, and take the time to create a publication that mirrors the true diversity of our community and honors local people, movements, and communities in a truly inclusive and unbiased manner.
Regarding the notion that community members are holding Mountain Xpress “to a higher standard,” we would suggest that we are not holding the Xpress to a “higher” standard but to a very basic, minimum standard of fairness. This is, after all, 2014. What we expect from the Xpress is what we would like to see in all media: fair and accurate, unbiased reporting. Ignoring women and people of color is biased, unfair, and inaccurate.
We believe that the level of community concern and the magnitude of the XPress’ bias merits an apology and a commitment to action from the leadership of the Mountain XPress.
We call on the XPress to take additional action beyond publishing a written response to our letter and updating their timeline.
Here are some examples of actions that the XPress could take:
Instituting a program of training on diversity, inclusion, and bias for staff and management.
Instituting a periodic accountability measure or tool that evaluates how well the mission statement is being followed and reports this information back to the community.
Creating an advisory board made up of members of the community, with diverse representation, as an accountability measure.
Publishing a cover story or a series of cover stories with the stories being collected on the Facebook page and WordPress site for our Open Letter, highlighting the significant contributions to Asheville’s history of women and people of color, in particular African-American and Latino community members, people of mixed abilities, people of diverse gender identities, and the indigenous people of our region, the Cherokee people.
Hosting a facilitated event inviting community members to create a People’s History of Asheville, working with co-signers of our Open Letter to organize the event in a way that is inclusive and ensures participation from diverse communities, reflecting the diversity of our city.
Active recruitment of writers of color to ensure there is diverse representation of the community served by the Xpress. Additionally, we challenge the Xpress to include writers of other perspectives and to open its pages to differently abled writers, queer and trans writers and other groups whose stories are most often not made visible by Xpress editorial staff.
We also challenge the XPress to live up to their own mission statement by responding to this community critique with a critical look at their overall approach and long-term, real, substantial change in their editorial choices.