Best of Baltimore 2016 Introduction: On enthusiasm and a disappointing reader's poll

In City Paper’s annual Best of Baltimore issue we offer up our most sustained burst of enthusiasm for the city. It’s a detailed (although not comprehensive) list of what caught our attention this year, whether it’s performances, products, or politicians.

The paper is full of the things we really, really care about in some way or another. Some of it is the stuff we appreciate or admire—an artist or a food spot or a view in a park that helps us get through the day or improves the city even in some small but significant corner—and some of it is the stuff that infuriates us or seems ill-advised or apocalyptically bad. When we write about those things we’re powered by enthusiasm, too—albeit enthusiasm for reform.

Our readers are also enthusiastic. This is clear from the many readers who took the time to fill out our annual Reader’s Poll. Readers begin with an open ballot that is then narrowed down to three finalists based on what got the most write-in votes. When our annual Reader’s Poll finalists were announced a few weeks ago, one reader observed via Facebook that a finalist for “Best Local Issue You’re Sick Of” was “Freddie Gray”—and that this was supremely fucked-up. We were surprised by this, too—and agreed. We got reflective. What did it mean? What did they mean? On another level, the topic or title of the category is confusing as hell. “Best Local Issue You’re Sick Of”? Are we asking readers to tell us the issue they’re tired of hearing about because they don’t think it’s important, and that means these readers don’t think police brutality is a big deal? Or is it because the issue exemplifies the enduring racism and police brutality of our city (and why are we still grappling with this in 2016)? Or are they saying they’re sick of this because they don’t like how the press is covering it? Or what? We should rethink that category altogether.

We are always rethinking things at the paper.

Likely, the readers who voted for that are a mix of people that were in one way or another bemoaning the persistent problem of police brutality (and probably had the endless fuckery that was the trials for the officers charged with Gray’s death fresh in their minds) and law-and-order types who don’t think Freddie Gray’s life was notable or that because he had been arrested before he “deserved it.”

So, among our readers, Freddie Gray ended up being the “winner” in the Best Local Issue You’re Sick Of category. Meanwhile, Best Local Cause went to BARCS, an animal shelter, with second place going to Black Lives Matter (there isn’t even a Baltimore chapter of BLM here by the way, though we have plenty of local activists). “Black people lost out to dogs,” observed Associate Editor Lisa Snowden-McCray at the time.

Then there’s noted activist and former mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson, who won both “Best Troublemaker” and “Best Do-Gooder” in the Reader’s Poll. Another example of how the city’s divided. On the editorial side, we ended up giving Mckesson “Best Lightning Rod” which seems appropriate. He gets it from both sides. We can relate to that.

And by the way, we’re throwing around the royal “we” here in our prose and you’ll see plenty more “we” throughout the issue—but the pronouns are best understood as collection of fractious “I”s. If you ever wonder what’s going on behind the scenes at City Paper as these Best Of awards get hashed out, know that it is a full-tilt raging firestorm of a battle—ignited way back in July with lots of beer and pizza in the basement of Joe Squared with staff and freelancers, continuing into August with a steady stream of shifting alliances and back-channelled volleys being fired across the cubicle walls, and winding down about one minute before we go to press with a last-minute word change that is sure to delight—or piss off—someone. There is a whole lot of “enthusiasm” flying around the office when it comes to hashing out who gets a Best of award.

After that we have a brief détente—Tuesday—until the paper hits the stands and you, our similarly passionate and fractious readers pick up the paper and tell us what’s what. A few weeks ago, a staffer shared a photo someone sent in: It depicted an entire stack of 50 City Papers papers pulled out of a yellow box in Mount Vernon. They were carefully, viciously slashed in half. We decided to view it as a compliment: For a print publication in 2016 to get a reader so furious about some article we’d written that they’d take the time to whip out an uber box cutter and slice 50 issues from top to bottom and then neatly stack them next to the box was clearly a statement. This reader was mad, mad, mad. Truth is, we never have that if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-no-one-hears-it-does-it-make-a-sound moment when our papers hit the stands; our readers make sure of it. And this is most apparent in our annual Best of Baltimore issue.

So stop by on Thursday at our Best of Baltimore party. There’s booze and food and if you like, it’s a chance to tell us what you’re enthusiastic about—or not. (Karen Houppert & Brandon Soderberg)


City Paper’s 2016 Best of Baltimore was written by Jim Burger, Maura Callahan, Ryan Detter, Kate Drabinski, Casey Embert, Edward Ericson Jr., J.M. Giordano, Karen Houppert, Adam Katzman, Rebekah Kirkman, Bret McCabe, Cassandra Miller, Anthony Moll, Lexie Mountain, Karen Peltier, Brandon Soderberg, Lisa Snowden-McCray, Kenneth Stone Breckenridge, Reginald Thomas II, Brandon Weigel, and Baynard Woods. Photographs by Amanda Bowrosen, Jim Burger, Audrey Gatewood, Michelle Gienow, J.M. Giordano, Tedd Henn, Megan Lloyd, Valerie Paulsgrove, E.Brady Robinson, Josh Sisk, and Reginald Thomas II. Interns: Mia Capobianco, Ja’Von Hill, and Deneia Washington.

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