Thirty-two years ago, this magazine, with our sister publication Boston, introduced readers to the “Best Of” format. Back then, it was called “Best (and Worst) of Philly,” and it immediately got people talking. It was fun, outrageous, helpful and authoritative. If, like me, you grew up around here, that issue sat on your coffee table year-round, your road map for how to navigate the region.
It has often been imitated, but no wannabe has approached our level of comprehensiveness. Others do readers’ polls, for instance; they’re fine, if you need to know more about Starbucks and the Olive Garden. We, on the other hand, try to serve as your proxy; we don’t want to tell you what you already know about your world — we want to change it, by introducing you to places and things and people.
This year, senior editor Jessica Blatt helmed the project and came up with our most ambitious package yet. Blatt came to us a year ago from New York, where she was an editor at CosmoGirl and Food & Wine. Her fresh eyes energized the staff to fan out and unearth the things in our region that are worth celebrating. That’s why of our 360-plus winners, more than 260 are first-timers. (Contrary to popular cynicism, we aren’t influenced by who advertises in the magazine. Any content analysis through the years will show that far more awards have been given to non-advertisers than to advertisers; our passion isn’t up for sale.) The staff went out and found hidden gems, while still paying homage to worthy standbys.
If you need proof of our commitment, look no further than our post-Best of Philly office weight-loss challenge. We ate so much trying to come up with our 90-plus food entries that a bunch of us put on a Best of Paunch. In an effort to shed the fleshy Best Of pork, we’re competing to see who’s the biggest loser among us. If it’s me (and the staff already seems to think it is), I’ll be shamelessly showing off the guns and, uh, new three-pack tummy at our annual staff pool party.
Two years ago, we added a “Best Philadelphian” to Best of Philly, highlighting someone among us who’s an inspiration. The first recipient was lawyer Pat Dugan, who, in his 40s and tired of watching military screwups in Iraq from the safety of his living room couch, decided to reenlist in the Army; he was soon part of a team setting up a fledgling democracy in Mosul, Iraq. Last year, we honored Liz and Jay Scott, parents of courageous Alex Scott, the little girl stricken with cancer who captured our hearts and minds with her lemonade stands.
This year, senior editor Sandy Hingston profiles public-school teacher and administrator Salome Thomas-EL on page 160. Though a movie based on his memoir, I Choose To Stay, is in the works — starring Will Smith — and though 20 of his students in North Philly have been killed since he started teaching 17 years ago, Thomas-EL is still at it, saving kids through teaching, mentoring and chess; at Vaux Middle School, he led an unlikely bunch of inner-city kids with little chess experience to a national title. “Every child deserves to have somebody be crazy about him,” Thomas-EL often says. With his eloquent example, we may be closer to the day that dream becomes real.
Finally, two personnel notes. This month, design director Michael McCormick joins us from Indianapolis Monthly, where he often swept the City and Regional Magazine Association design awards competition. And speaking of CRMA, Contrarian columnist Noel Weyrich was recently honored by the association as the best city columnist in the country. Much of my time is spent fielding complaints about Noel. (Wait till you read his September screed.) I don’t always agree with him, but Noel always makes me reexamine conventional wisdom. That’s what a good columnist — and magazine, for that matter — ought to do.