As a magazine that represents the best of the alternative press, we knew we should cobble together a collection of the decade’s best and brightest as the “Aughts” come to a close. We considered locking ourselves in a room with stacks of magazines, piles of journals, lists of newsletters, and strong emotions, to create such a list from scratch... until we remembered that we do that already every year for the Utne Independent Press Awards. So, behold! A list of the best magazines of the decade, as determined by Utne Reader editors from 2000 to 2009.* Each of these magazines won the award for general excellence, and with the exception of one—The Ecologist, which now unfortunately publishes online only—all continue to do excellent work in print. And all would make excellent belated Christmas gifts for the mainstream media–fatigued in your life. Here are the winners, and what we had to say about them at the time:
2000: Mother Jones
"After raising hell with its investigative reporting for more than 30 years, San Francisco’s bimonthly Mother Jones remains a living—and lively—tribute to its rabble-rousing, union organizing namesake."
2001: The Ecologist **
"To anyone who breathes air, drinks water, eats food, and enjoys nature, the Ecologist is a reliable and long-standing British friend, covering environmental issues with dogged assurance. The 37-year-old magazine publishes gutsy activist journalism that takes on agrigiants like Monsanto; sharp and soundly argued commentaries; unvarnished green consumer advice; and revealing, deeply researched features."
2002: The Nation
"America’s oldest weekly magazine remains a vital voice in any discussion of politics or culture. Probing investigative reports, incisive international coverage, a stable of top-notch writers, and wide-ranging writing on many aspects of American society keep The Nation consistently in the forefront of the best of the alternative press."
2003: The American Prospect
"A bimonthly that lifts political writing out of the mire of Washington Gossip and scandal, The American Prospect offers a practical vision of public life and policy shaped by 'the liberal imagination.'”
"This gorgeous bimonthly journal of nature and political thought can be counted on to provide some of America’s most eloquent and impassioned essays in defense of the environment and social change."
"With the environment in grave peril, this magazine from the Natural Resources Defense Council is an invaluable antidote to despair. Casual readers will find the accessible issue briefs, strategy notes, and hard-hitting investigative reports visually compelling. Activists can turn to deeper pieces that define key battles and ground-breaking solutions."
2006: The Wilson Quarterly
"Very few magazines come close to providing the sort of surprises that routinely spice the Wilson Quarterly's pages. Smaller publications are too often catering to niche readers with a particular worldview. Larger media outlets are hesitant to feature truly bold, unorthodox thinking, lest it set off a segment of their mass audience."
"ColorLines bills itself as 'the national magazine on race and politics,' but its scope is vastly broader. From economics, education, and the environment to immigration, queer issues, fine arts, and pop culture, ColorLines examines the myriad ways race—and our ideas about race—intersect with every day. The 10-year-old publication entered 2007 with a fresh redesign and a new bimonthly format (formerly quarterly), and we couldn’t be happier to celebrate its success. Its editors and writers provide sharp critique and an essential perspective."
2009: Virginia Quarterly Review
"In 2008 every issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review found its way into our thoughts, our discussions, our issue-planning sessions, and, in the case of the salient, heartbreaking story of a soldier returning from Iraq, 'The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce,' onto our pages. VQR’s stories are deeply reported, exquisitely written, and elegantly edited—the sort of articles that make readers want to become writers. The magazine’s graceful design and sumptuous photographs bring the stories and voices to life."
* Math types and hardcore indie-press nerds will note that there is no listing for 2008. It’s not that we skipped the 2008 awards, but we did shift our schedule so that what would have been the ’08 awards became the ’09 awards. In the unlikely event that you wish to hear more about this, contact Danielle Maestretti, the trusty Utne librarian, at dmaestretti [at] utne.com.
** No longer in print