2007 Utne Reader Independent Press Award Winners
General Excellence: Magazines
ColorLines, the 2007 general excellence winner, bills itself as “the national newsmagazine on race and politics,” but its scope is vastly broader. From economics, education, and the environment to immigration, queer issues, fine arts, and pop culture, ColorLines examines the myriad ways race—and our ideas about race—intersect with everyday life.
The Rants & Raves department showcases that mission in a nutshell, providing quick-hit analysis of the day’s top stories and “reading between the headlines” to commend and critique issues of race and class. These angles often go underreported, but ColorLines puts them front and center, as was the case when they wrote about a Dallas public elementary school where “for years, it was an open secret that white parents could get their children into all-white classes.”
The cover stories, though, are where ColorLines settles in, demonstrating essential perspective and sharp criticism. The May-June 2007 cover story, “For Sale: What New Orleans’ housing crisis reveals about race in American cities,” examines black communities struggling to resettle New Orleans and memorably calls for an “overdue debate on urban inequality.” In March-April 2007, we discovered “What Your Doctor Won’t See . . If conservatives make healthcare ‘colorblind.’ ”
In addition to political and social reporting, ColorLines excels as a source for arts coverage. “The Rise of Krip-Hop,” a write-up on disabled rap artists in the May-June 2007 issue, introduced us to a genre we’d simply not seen covered elsewhere. And the “Fiction Issue” (Nov.-Dec. 2006) makes the case that creative writers are political figures, and that fiction, in the words of managing editor Daisy Hernández, “creates for us the story of what people actually experience.”
The 10-year-old publication entered 2007 with a fresh redesign and a new bimonthly format (formerly quarterly). We couldn’t be happier to celebrate its success, and we’re looking forward to 2008.
General Excellence: Zines
A tall, slim, uncluttered zine that arrives four or five times a year, Macaroni takes on whatever its publisher, John Toren, feels like writing about—philosophy, travel, film, food—and it’s a surprisingly successful formula. In large part, this is due to Toren’s exquisite knack for writing and storytelling, which makes a page-turner out of practically anything. Even his reflections on working at a (now-defunct) book warehouse, which occupied the whole of a recent issue, proved a fascinating read. It helps, too, that he clearly still delights in making Macaroni, 20 years after he rolled out the first issue. His writing is amiable and his mind clear; his thoughts move seamlessly from, say, a book he’s been reading by French intellectual Alain Finkielkraut to a review of happy hour specials at local restaurants. The 20-some pages of Macaroni are, quite simply, as much a joy to read as they must be to write.
Best New Publication
Heavy intellectual hitters in the world of politics, including Dennis Ross, Joseph Nye, Jr., and Anne-Marie Slaughter, have their say in the pages of Democracy. From the first issue, when Kathryn Roth-Douquet called on progressives to enlist in the military, this quarterly “journal of ideas” has consistently presented fresh perspectives on American foreign policy and politics. Democracy fills a void in today’s media landscape: It’s an intelligent, wide-ranging political magazine committed to “grooming the next generation of progressive thought-leaders.” Conservatives have magazines like the National Review, Commentary, and National Interest to arm their troops for battle. Editors Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny conceived their journal as a way for the left to do the same. Contributors often contradict each other, with every issue devoting space to responses to the previous issue’s points of view. Ultimately, the editors hope these disagreements, polemics, and discussions will strengthen the progressive movement in the United States.
There’s an undeniable appeal to the theme-issue magazine, which is why even regular old publications occasionally drop the “music” issue or the “food” issue into the mix. But the real-deal, not-messing-around theme-issue magazines do it every time, presenting their subject area through myriad lenses, refracting their beat into one dazzling angle after the next. Theme (as you’d never guess from its title) does just that, and does it with serious style. The guiding subject is global Asian culture; each issue’s theme is whimsically specific (transplants, journals, nerds!); and the visual elements are always refined. Theme also excels at presenting all types of artwork in interesting, beautiful, and accessible ways. The “nerds” issue (Spring 2007) playfully showcases photography by Jing Cheng Quek, while the “journals” issue (Summer 2007) strikes just the right, albeit odd, tone for the disarming animal art of Lee Hyungkoo. Sometimes, Theme runs pieces that are all art, no text at all, save a headline. Like any best-design winner, Theme is consistent in its use of clean typefaces and ample white space, but it’s the way each issue’s distinct visual personality compliments its motif that pushed Theme to the top in 2007.
Think of the Sun as an intimate forum where some of the finest contemporary writers share their most polished, provocative prose, and then everyone else is invited to join in. The magazine’s founder, Sy Safransky, has made it a priority to create an open environment for storytelling and exchanging ideas. “We’re all in the same boat—mysterious flesh-and-blood creatures, radiant and broken—and of course the boat is sinking, but there’s still time to share a story or two as the night comes on,” he writes in the January 2007 issue. The modestly-sized editorial staff consistently honors the art of writing while dabbling in interviews, memoirs, essays, fiction, and poetry. In “Reader’s Write,” one of our favorite sections of the magazine, readers are invited to contribute short pieces on a broad range of topics, such as “Airports” or “Nine to Five,” resulting in a lively, nationwide dialogue.
Smartly occupying a spot somewhere between vapid Hollywood celeb mags and austere film-scholar journals, Film Comment is for people who love movies and crave intelligent writing about them, without footnotes. Published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Film Comment regularly publishes some of the best film writers in the world, and they probe and parse cinema in ways that deepen our experience of it and provide far more satisfaction than the average thumbs-up-thumbs-down review. In recent issues, Stuart Klawans of the Nation analyzed Michael Moore’s calculatedly polemic style, Barcelona-based film critic Manuel Yanez Murillo heralded Spanish director Carlos Saura, and Jonathan Romney plumbed the meaning of the dystopian Children of Men. Generously sized photos and a clean look make Film Comment a feast for the eyes, much like the movies it covers. After the lights come up, crack it open and enjoy.
In a time when media reflection on the country’s race issues comes down to parsing the latest celebrity gaffe, Intelligence Report reminds us that organized, violent racism—often written-off as a troubling relic of a bygone era—endures. Published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the venerable Montgomery, Alabama-based civil rights organization, the magazine tracks extremist movements and their ideological ripples throughout society. In the Spring 2007 issue, for instance, it was reported that the number of hate groups in the United States has swelled along with the nation’s rising tide of populist anti-immigration sentiments, climbing 40 percent to 844 in a six-year period (2000 to 2006). The Winter 2006 cover story took aim at Latino gangs targeting African Americans in Los Angeles. In Fall 2007, the magazine exposed the “Watchmen on the Walls,” a virulent anti-gay group fomenting hatred among fellow Slavic immigrants in Sacramento. Managing their wide-ranging mission by carrying on the fine but increasingly rare tradition of old-school investigative journalism, the writers and editors weed through mountains of paper, work the phones, hit the pavement, and connect the dots.
Earth Island Journal
Lots of magazines are covering the environment these days—is there one that hasn’t done a “green” issue?—but among those that make it their beat, Earth Island Journal stands out. The quarterly publication of the David Brower-founded Earth Island Institute, the Journal impresses us with its global perspective on environmental news, its clear presentation of complex issues, and an editorial gutsiness in its well-researched features and hard-hitting commentaries. In recent issues the magazine has written about the “killer spinach” of industrial agriculture, the risks presented by genetically modified trees, and, on the silver-lining tip, how to survive the transition to the post-oil economy. And we liked last fall’s story about the greenwashing of the nuclear industry so much that we reprinted it in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of Utne Reader. The environment is surely the biggest news story of our day, and we’re glad Earth Island Journal is on it.
POZ serves one of the most diverse audiences out there: people living with HIV/AIDS. In the past year alone, this engaging magazine has covered rising infection rates in the Southern United States, homophobia and HIV stigma in Jamaica, new infections among senior citizens, the struggles of HIV-positive undocumented immigrants, and many other stories that we don’t see anywhere else. Each issue balances this brand of serious reporting with lighter, more upbeat pursuits, including profiles of AIDS activists, short first-person narratives, pop-culture snapshots, legislative and medical news, and health tips. It’s a vital resource on a subject that’s constantly skipped over by the mainstream media, and required reading for anyone interested in a more complete picture of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
The premier source for all things scholarly, this weekly reader combines grade-A reportage with sharp, smart (dare we say, non-academic?) prose, to make a seemingly specialized beat both accessible and relevant to the broadest of audiences. The state of higher education is a political concern of deep import both domestically and around the globe. For that reason alone, this comprehensive, cleanly designed newspaper deserves recognition for its international scope. What raises its political coverage to elite status, though, is “The Chronicle Review,” a fearless, free-thinking section where academia’s best and brightest can take their gloves off and swing with abandon at both sides of the increasingly predictable political divide. Some of our favorite storylines from 2007: “Most everyone has a theory about why the poor stay poor. Most everyone is wrong”; “Sure, we should respond to terrorism with calm, tactical rationality. We should also call its perpetrators what they are: scum”; “Hats off to conservatives’ literary skills—but it’s easy to be entertaining when your ideas are simplistic and illogical.” Politically correct? Hardly. Ahead of the curve? Always.
In a word: sumptuous. Perfect-bound, pages ever-so-slightly-glossy, Gastronomica feels heavier in your hand than 140-odd pages should. It’s clean and elegant, from its covers (a simple image, no text) to its content (blissfully free of advertising). It’s a perennial pleasure to devour, as satisfying intellectually as it is visually. For a journal with academic ties—it’s published by the University of California Press, and editor in chief Darra Goldstein and managing editor Jane Canova are from Williams College—Gastronomica is roundly accessible. The Summer 2007 issue, for instance, includes an interview with the developer of “vertical farming”; a photo essay shot in Tequila, Mexico, heavy on the agave plants; a critique of the cult of Michael Pollan (reprinted in Utne Reader’s Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue); a history of “food advice” in America; and a photograph of a “Happier Meal,” a tiny, adorable, felt reproduction of that edible cultural archetype.
If psychologists tried to analyze Foreign Policy, they’d probably diagnose the bimonthly with an acute case of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Whatever the rest of the world currently believes about global politics, Foreign Policy will find someone who disagrees. And, much to the consternation of political candidates and world leaders, the contrarian views espoused are often dead on. Founded by Samuel Huntington and Warren Demian Manshel and now published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the magazine seems to have hit its stride lately, winning a number of prestigious magazine awards in the last year. Editor Mosés Naím’s column “Missing Links” has become a must for anyone interested in global politics. Even the letters to the editor read like the faculty notes of a prestigious university, with professors, organization presidents, ambassadors, and congressional representatives writing in to make their opinions heard. Agree or disagree, every issue offers new and challenging perspectives on the ever-shrinking world in which we live.
The Canadian province of Alberta has a booming oil economy that has wrought environmental havoc, led to an immigration influx, and fueled a diverse and vibrant arts scene. The regional magazine Alberta Views navigates this far-ranging terrain with grace and intelligence, and although it calls itself “the magazine about Alberta for Albertans,” we respectfully disagree, since we find ourselves repeatedly drawn to its vivid writing. Sure, some of the political coverage is best left to the locals, but the “Eye on Alberta” section never fails to remind us of a north-of-the-border version of Harper’s “Readings,” and the feature reports and essays often touch on issues that resonate far beyond the province’s borders. We loved “Doing the Dirty Work,” in which a writer worked on oil rigs for two months, and “Mean Streets,” which reported on the province’s homeless population, the largest per capita in the country. Add savvy arts coverage of Alberta’s considerable creative output, and the result is a magazine we never want to miss.
When a magazine lands in your mailbox at the relentless pace of once a week, it can seem more like a recycling burden than an intellectual treat. (Hell, sometimes even a bimonthly, no matter how great, can get lost in the informational onslaught.) That’s why we were all a bit surprised when the weekly Science News emerged as a clear favorite among a staff already buried under mountains of magazines-to-read. What’s their trick? One word: essential. Science News boils down the latest trends and findings in the ever-expanding world of science into must-know information. Clocking in at a slim 16 pages, Science News is packed with short, easy-to read round-ups from the week and quick blurbs on notable books. But there is depth here, too. Features this year have examined the long reach of urban air pollution, troubling schizophrenia rates among Pacific islanders, and the Arctic’s melting permafrost. Even if you’re not in touch with your inner science geek, you’ll find something to enjoy in this smart but accessible publication. Just make sure that, before you toss its recycled pages into the recycling bin, you’ve spent some quality time with it.
The stated goal of the Canadian-based Shambhala Sun Foundation, which publishes this year’s winner, is to “promote the growth and development of genuine buddhadharma as Buddhism takes root in the West” and to “work with and support all those who share the values of wisdom, sacredness, and compassion.” Shambhala Sun, while clearly aligned with the nonprofit’s specific take on this brand of spirituality, stands out not so much as a doctrinaire instructional manual (there are other publications better geared for that task) as it does a user-friendly guide for culturally curious, searching souls. With a focus on health and wellness, and a decidedly gentle approach to the lifelong trial that is personal transformation, the editors tap a surprisingly diverse cast of philosophers, psychologists, educators, and storytellers to breathe life into its lessons, which ultimately boil down to a clearer vision of ourselves, our neighbors, and the world’s beauty and fragility.
Here is a list of all the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award Nominees
Alberta Views (Winner)
East Bay Monthly (Bay Area, CA)
The Independent Weekly (Lafayette, LA)
New England Watershed
Oxford American (Southern U.S.)
Sacramento News & Review
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