Best of Utah 2014: Media & Politics | Best of Utah | Salt Lake City

Best of Utah 2014: Media & Politics 

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VIP Voter Robert Kirby
Best New Age Mormon Columnist

In 1995 we wrote: Maybe Kirby isn’t really a New Age Mormon (we’re not being derisive, we just don’t know how to define Mr. Kirby), but the fellow certainly is a clever and entertaining writer. You know he knows and believes his religion and you know you wish all of your Mormon neighbors were like him. But, they’re not. (Today we say: We still wish Kirby were our neighbor.)

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Best TV News Station
It’s a sweet deal to be affiliated with CBS, the ratings juggernaut of network TV—but it means nothing unless you have the local-news firepower to keep those eyeballs after Elementary. KUTV 2 has more than stepped up in the past several years, with top personalities like Shauna Lake, a relentless around-the-clock news schedule balanced with just the right amount of fun and fluff, all wrapped up in a slick, inviting package that would make news stations in “bigger” markets envious. It even makes those idiots outside the news-desk window on Main Street tolerable.
2. Fox 13

3. KSL 5

Best Local Film Company
ReelBoy Productions
Utah-based film company Reelboy Productions had a massive 2013. Owner Jonathan Adamson and his crew spearheaded a slew of popular videos, including “A Day in the Life,” about the hardships of a lesbian couple raising a family, and the ridiculously viral “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal,” which was filmed at a Home Depot in Salt Lake City and racked up more than 11 million views.

Best Comeback
Miss Utah Marissa Powell
When Marissa Powell’s answer to a question about the wage gap at the 2013 Miss USA pageant included the phrase “create education better,” the entire nation came together with a collective face-palm. But even though she wasn’t crowned Miss USA, Powell ended up the big winner of the evening. After life gave her lemons, she immediately appeared on the Today show and Jimmy Kimmel Live and used those opportunities to speak more eloquently on issues of workplace inequality.

VIP Voter
Fox 13 anchor Hope Woodside

Hope Woodside cut her reporting teeth in the mid-’80s, covering cops and courts in Odessa, Texas—at the time, the murder capital of the United States. To test her mettle, the cops had her do a live report standing next to two bodies infested with maggots. She sailed through without problem—but her cameraman was sick.

She traces that fortitude and adaptability back to growing up in a family of independent, strong, career-orientated women. After her father lost everything when she was 14, she had four jobs, including teaching disco-dancing and working as a grocery checker and a bank teller.

In 1995, she left a 24-hour news channel in Chicago to come work for Fox 13. Salt Lake City “was a bit of a culture shock,” she says. She moved to Utah shortly after losing one of her closest friends to AIDS. “It was hard for me to understand, I didn’t get it that people in Utah had a problem with people who were gay.”

One of her most cherished stories was reporting on a woman whose baby had died from AIDS, a disease the woman had gotten from her partner. Up until that piece, Woodside says, many in the community had viewed AIDS as something that heterosexual women couldn’t contract.

City Weekly readers have voted Woodside as Best Female Anchor for 17 years—an astonishing number in the frenetic, neurotic world of TV news, filled with endless worries about relevance, looks, age, and questions like, “Will people still like me?” she says. “At the end of it all, you just push on, cross your fingers. I really like people, I like their stories; I’m very lucky to get to do what I do.”

And Utahns also feel lucky that she does what she does. The votes in our VIP poll also showed a strong love for Woodside, including from Fox 13 colleague Ben Winlsow, who reveals that she “sings in the newsroom between shows, and she has a lovely voice.”

She pursued improvisational humor for a while, she says, and her sense of humor is a useful defense when colleagues tease her deeper feelings. She chokes up whenever Fox 13 runs a story about veterans returning home, and the camera somehow always ends up cutting over to her, revealing her dewy eyes. “They think that’s hilarious.”

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Best Scandal
John Swallow
You often hear phrases like “pay to play” in casual conversation or online comments about a politician. But it’s not often that you hear phrases like that in official government documents, like the report prepared by the House Special Investigative Committee that was tasked with investigating the slippery dealings of former Utah Attorney General John Swallow. The report not only said that the office was too close to special interests who’d made hefty donations to Swallow’s campaign, but also that the office essentially hung a “for sale” sign on the door. Though it was an allegation of facilitating a six-figure bribe of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson that brought Swallow’s sins under the harsh glare of public scrutiny, the scandal didn’t stop there. Investigators also found that he’d used deception and dummy corporations to hide hundreds of thousands in campaign dollars, fabricated evidence given to investigators and even “lost” laptops, hard drives, and scores of e-mails that investigators were after. Criminal probes are still ongoing, but after the legislative investigation, the diagnosis is clear: Swallow was a political animal born without the ethics chromosome.
2. Gay Marriage in Utah

3. West Valley Police Department

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Best Unsinkable Mary
Mary Nickles, KUTV 2
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2011 following a story she did about mammograms, Channel 2 News anchor Mary Nickles missed just four days of work during her months of treatment. More impressively, she let viewers into her story through a personal blog and continuing TV coverage. Letting strangers witness her vulnerable, painful moments couldn’t have been easy, but Nickles handled it with grace and the hope that her story might save someone else’s life. Now almost two years after finishing treatment, Nickles is living life at full steam, donating her time to charities, coaching high school volleyball and, of course, holding down the morning news desk with her now-trademark stylish short ’do.
KUTV 2, 6-8 a.m. & noon weekdays,, Twitter: @KUTVMary
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Best Local Rap Advocate
Planit Ra Hotep
In the past 10 years, KRCL’s only hip-hop program has changed hosts, formats and timeslots, but it wasn’t until Tri Taylor, aka Planit Ra Hotep, took the reins nearly two years ago that the Friday Night Fallout finally found its voice. Every Friday, Planit shines a light on local producers, DJs and emcees, while consistently bringing that boom-bap sound. And if he’s not in the studio, Planit can be found behind the decks at many of Salt Lake City’s underground rap shows.
KRCL 90.9 FM, Fridays 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.,

Best New Event
Salt Lake Comic Con
With headliners like Stan Lee and William Shatner, the inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con in September 2013 exceeded expectations when more than 72,000 nerds converged on the Salt Palace Convention Center, making it the largest first year for a comic-book convention. Founder Dan Farr has announced that 2014’s convention will be even bigger, and has added the April FanX event—featuring folks from The Walking Dead and Dr. Who, among others—to keep pop-culture fans satisfied till fall.

Best Latina Challenger
Luz Robles

As the Senate’s only Latina, Democrat Luz Robles has proven a valuable voice on immigration, while developing a powerful presence in the media and politics as a leading LDS Democrat—who also happens to be a vice president at Zions Bank. Robles’ decision to run for the heavily Republican 2nd Congressional District against GOP first-term incumbent Sen. Chris Stewart—not known for his sympathy for immigration reform—was something we can’t help but applaud, both for its ambition and the welcome sign that Utah can still field Democratic contenders who have passion and name recognition.

VIP Voter Brad Rock
Best Local Sportswriter

In 1998 we wrote: This D-News sports-hack’s consistently lively prose is sadly buried in an afternoon paper. Rock brings craftsmanship and a joie de vivre to his writing which consistently delights and informs his readers. His well-researched, deftly written piece on John Stockton shone a light on a local and national star whose reclusive manner has made him the Howard Hughes of the National Basketball Association. (Today we say: He’s still the best—a good sport, a great guy, and the best thing the D-News has going for it.)

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Best Elected Official
Ralph Becker
Air quality is a tough political problem, but where other politicos simply shrug their shoulders, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has declared war. Besides adding miles of bike lanes in the city, Becker, by recent executive order, required that all future municipal buildings qualify for Gold LEED certification. He also made public transit affordable for city residents by partnering with the Utah Transit Authority to offer Salt Lake City residents the all-the-transit-you-can-ride Hive pass for just $30 a month. It’s this kind of focus on the problems affecting all of us that has won Becker support and votes from City Weekly readers.
2. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

3. Sen. Jim Dabakis

Best Voice on Religion
Peggy Fletcher
Stack The past year was a reminder that longtime Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack is a valued touchstone in Utah’s cultural landscape. Her stories, like that of a University of Utah professor’s embrace of his own death or a profile of the preeminent Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn—rejected by the church he loves for asking too many questions—show a sure, gentle hand that heralds both the humanity of her subjects and the wealth they have to share., Twitter: @ReligionGal

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