Photo by Michele Ursino

Last month, the City and Regional Magazine Association, a membership-based body of local magazines and alt-weeklies, announced the winners of its annual awards. This year, Texas Monthly, Portland Monthlyand Sarasota Magazine won overall excellence awards in their respective categories.

Local and regional periodicals fill an important space in the media ecosystem; voices rooted in the sights and sounds of a place can reveal the complexity of what’s really happening in an area. We all know by now that our time is one where the press is imperiled and the pursuit of truth is threatened. There is commercial pressure on journalists due to a fragmented marketplace, and mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations that have shorn staff sizes and budgets.  As we have said before, it is important to support their work.

In honor of the awards, we compiled a few local and regional deep cuts, including some of the winning pieces from CRMA publications. What do they have in common? A rigorous approach to the truth, a convergence of the of the personal and political, implicit — and some explicit — calls to action, and excellent writing.

1. “The Iconoclast.” (Eric Benson, Texas Monthly, November 2016)

This award-winning feature in the CRMA’s profiles category tells the story of Jim Allison, an immunologist with an unconventional approach to his profession who may have stumbled upon a viable, life-extending treatment for rare and dangerous cancers.

Fifteen years later, James P. Allison, the chairman of the department of immunology at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, would stand at a lectern in Baylor College of Medicine’s Cullen Auditorium describing Sharon’s case to a crowd of two hundred clinicians, scientists, and students. Allison had met Sharon only once, but few people could speak with more authority on her case. That’s because the 68-year-old Allison had been the scientific pioneer and indomitable advocate behind her last-ditch treatment.

Projected above Allison were images from two CT scans. The scan on the left showed Sharon’s torso in May 2001, a massive tumor impinging her left lung, the pleural effusion flooding her chest. The scan on the right also showed Sharon’s chest, but this image was clean, normal, empty. The scan showed only some scar tissue and two functioning lungs. Above the two slides were the words “The longest survivor on ipilimumab?”

“This is my favorite slide,” Allison said. “She got a single injection of ipilimumab, and six months later her tumors were completely gone.”

2. “Three Years of Nights.” (Peter Nickeas, Chicago Magazine, September 2016)

Nickeas won the CRMA’s Essays, Criticism, and Commentary award for the vivid account of the three years he spent as overnight violent crime reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Gun violence in Chicago is a well-covered topic, and in this piece all of the usual players are there: exhausted police officers, grieving mothers, recalcitrant bystanders and offenders. But Nickeas doesn’t take the easy way out; there are no clear villains or victors, and the author deftly highlights the toll it took on his own emotional life.

A recurring thought came to me: In what world is any of this OK? I felt dirty, short of breath, and my chest was tight. I could taste the stink of cigarette and weed smoke and liquor and had the smell of blood stuck on my tongue. I wanted to wash everything off me. I wanted to get out of there, find one of the spots I went to when it got like this: a friendly diner, the lakefront, a corner with a regular tamale vendor—places that had become a refuge.

I didn’t see straight for a month after Cornell Square Park was shot up. I couldn’t see what was happening in front of me, couldn’t make a logical story out of it. It all seemed so routine: the murder, the body taken away, the family upset, the police looking indifferent, and the sun still rises.

3. “The New Superstar in Town.” (Bryan Smith, Chicago Magazine, June 2016)

Bryan Smith profiles Chicago Sky MVP Elena Delle Donne, an emerging superstar athlete who is poised to become the face of the still struggling WNBA.

At 26 and in her fourth year with the Sky, she has, in short order, gone from being the face of a franchise to the face of a league, and soon, if Nike and Gatorade have their way (as they so often do), she’ll be the very face of women’s sports in general. Delle Donne seems made for the role—attractive and personable, racking up otherworldly stats that place her firmly on a Hall of Fame track. “Elena,” says newly named WNBA president Lisa Borders, “is already an iconic player. She is a perfect example of what the league stands for.”

4. “Still Life” (Chris Outcalt, 5280, January 2016)

Outcalt’s poignant profile of Giselle Guiterrez-Ruiz, who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole as a teenager for a murder that he didn’t commit, won the CRMA’s award for civic journalism. Guiterrez-Ruiz had served nearly 20 years by the time of the story’s publication, and “Still Life” set into motion a series of events that led to his release last November.

When Giselle arrived in Denver, everything was different. There was no one like his mother to take care of him, and the 15-year-old bounced around, living at various apartments and duplexes with his brothers and sisters. Giselle attended West High School but dropped out in part because he didn’t speak English. Giselle’s brother Raul would occasionally bring Giselle along to help on jobs installing Sheetrock. Raul was always the brother Giselle most looked up to.

Not long after coming to Colorado, Giselle found comfort in the mountains. In his free time, he’d drive to Boulder and sit by the creek in the shadow of the Flatirons, dipping his toes into the rushing water. Eventually, he discovered the buffalo preserve in the hills west of Denver. From up there, the city looked small, like it was manageable. After spending part of his morning at the preserve that Friday in October 1997, Giselle drove back down the hill. That night, he went out to a dance club in Thornton called La Fantasia. Giselle liked to dance, and he often went to the club with his brothers and people they knew. According to court documents, Giselle left La Fantasia that night around 10:30 p.m. with a man named Guero.

5. “What are the Chances?” (Sandy Hingston, Boston Magazine, March 2016)

Amy Reed and Hooman Noorchashm wage a battle against the medical establishment when Reed suffers devastating after effects from what should have been a routine gynecological procedure.

Amy’s a doctor herself, married to a doctor—one who worked in the same hospital where she was operated on. If she and Hooman weren’t told the truth about what might happen to her, what are the chances you or I would be? How blind is our faith in physicians, and how daunting our inability to know what questions to ask? That’s the bone that’s stuck in Hooman’s craw, and it’s what turned his email campaign against morcellation into an all-out war against the wobbly, opaque healthcare system that endangers us all.

6. “Mustang Green: A Season of Hope in a Segregated City.” (Michael Graff, Charlotte Magazine, February 2016)

A three-part story of a half-black, half-white high school football team in Charlotte, the “second-fastest growing big city in America.” Parts two and three trace a season in the lives of the players and coaches.

It is the last regular-season Friday night of an up and down year for Myers Park. In a city where faces change color completely from one neighborhood to the next, few groups offer a better glimpse into integration than this team. Myers Park has 35 white players and 32 black players on the roster (along with one player who is mixed-race and one who is Asian). If you measure success simply by wins and losses, the results are inconclusive. Myers Park has a 6-4 record going into tonight’s game, not so bad and not so good. But if you listen to them in the locker room and at practice and at the lunch table, you’ll hear a team of teenagers who aren’t afraid of conversations that many adults fear. They talk about race and class with the same matter-of-factness they use to discuss fast cars and farts, as if it’s all part of life.