Here at Baltimore’s Best Alternative Weekly, we often use our Best of Baltimore issues to mark the passage of time. Last year, as we were putting this giant heap of Best together, we got word that our erstwhile owner Times-Shamrock was putting its five alternative weeklies up for sale.
A lot has happened since then—most notably for us, the Baltimore Sun Media Group (BSMG) bought City Paper, putting us under the same umbrella with the Sun, the very newspaper we were founded as an alternative to. The toughest part of that was losing some invaluable staffers, who were fired by Times-Shamrock (technically, we all were) and were not hired by BSMG. In addition, we transitioned to new systems, including a new content management system for our website, and adjusted to a drastically different working environment.
The week after we got news of the sale, art director Joe MacLeod, who was among those not hired by BSMG, created what will certainly go down as one of the best covers in City Paper history, encapsulating our collective fears in classic City Paper style. The cover, which won “Best Parody” in Baltimore magazine’s Best of Baltimore issue, imagined a City Paper overwhelmed by new ownership, with the giant Sun logo dwarfing the City Paper one and The Sun’s “Light for All” motto changed to “Jobs for Some.” Bylines included tags like “Baltimore City Paper, no wait, The Sun—no wait—The Hartford Advocate, no, The Sun, maybe? Taco Bell?”
But, it must be said, our worst fears were not realized. In April, a month after the sale was completed, we put out our first-ever Weed Issue, “Guide to the High Life,” with a psychedelic cover modeled on R. Crumb’s illustration for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Cheap Thrills” album cover, along with product reviews, a playlist of stoner tunes, and a serious consideration of the reality of decriminalization. Media watcher Jim Romenesko posted the cover on his website under the headline, “Nice to See City Paper Hasn’t Changed Under Baltimore Sun Media Group Ownership.”
At least subconsciously, this and other early forays into touchy subjects were our attempts to test for limits, to see if we would have any new problems doing the work we’ve always done. And to our relief, there haven’t been. Job losses aside, we’re still here, putting out a weekly paper full of challenging investigative news, passionate arts coverage, and endless dedication to the city we serve. And while we can never replace MacLeod or the other employees we lost or overstate their importance to the paper’s history, we’re glad MacLeod’s Mr. Wrong column and freelance contributions are still part of City Paper.
So this year’s Best of Baltimore issue is cause for celebration, maybe even more than usual. City Paper has been a local institution since 1977 and, despite many, many changes over the years, we like to think of the paper as a classic that only gets better with age, like a great vinyl album—an idea that inspired this year’s Best of Baltimore cover and design.
Also this year, in addition to recognizing the best of everything from politicians to bagels to bars, we look back at previous winners in our “Greatest Hits” pages, recalling the winners for things such as “Best Scandal,” “Best Brunch,” and “Best Reason to Leave Baltimore” over the years. Of course, City Paper will never actually leave Baltimore—at least not without a fight—and that’s more clear to us now than it’s ever been.
City Paper’s 2014 best of Baltimore was written by Jim Burger, Lawrence Burney, Maura Callahan, Tom Chalkley, Charles Cohen, Ryan Detter, Kate Drabinski, Edward Ericson Jr., Michael Farley, J.M. Giordano, Charlie Herrick, Geoffrey Himes, John Housser III, Nicole King, Rebekah Kirkman, Lawrence Lanahan, Rebecca Scott Lord, Joe MacLeod, Bret McCabe, Evan Serpick, Al Shipley, Josh Sisk, Van Smith, Brandon Soderberg, Danielle Sweeney, Athena Towery, Lindsay VanAsdalan, Anna Walsh, Wendy Ward, Brandon Weigel, Baynard Woods. Interns: Bianca Biberaj, Eric Blum, Marie Claire Bryant, Gianna DeCarlo, Leo Gray, Ryan B. Harrison, Alex Jones, Gabrielle Wathen. Photographs by Jim Burger, Brandon Fieldhouse, audrey gatewood, Daria Johnson, Megan Lloyd, Helgi Olgeirsson, Noah Scialom, Josh Sisk, Jefferson Jackson Steele.