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

Best of Utah 2014: Media & Politics



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Best Nonprofit
Best Friends Animal Society
What began as an animal sanctuary in Southern Utah has expanded to a nationally recognized group that partners with other animal organizations to work toward the ultimate goal of keeping pets alive and getting them adopted. Best Friends plays online matchmaker between humans and animals in search of a home and also has an adoption center in Sugar House—naturally, all animals are spayed or neutered and microchipped before adoption. And in 2013, Best Friends launched a bottle-feeding nursery for orphan kittens as well as a pet-food pantry that offers discounted or free pet food to low-income Utahns struggling to keep the four-legged members of their family fed. It seems like a lofty goal to “save them all,” but if anyone can do it, it’s Best Friends.
Adoption Center: 2005 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City, 801-432-2124,
2. The Road Home
3. The Utah Food Bank

Best Parkour Master
Ronnie Street Stunts

Though much of 2013 was spent recovering from a horrendous back injury, Ronnie Shalvis was still able to produce some of Utah’s best parkour edits. You may remember his extreme Santa video, his Super Mario Brothers clip at the University of Utah campus, or his winter run through the Gallivan Center. To top it all off, Shalvis’ skills got him recruited in November by Italian car company Alfa Romeo for a television commercial.

Best Newspaper Phoenix
Reinaldo Escobar
What journalists do when their employer casts them out on the street has become an unfortunate topic of interest in Salt Lake City, particularly following the staff reduction at The Salt Lake Tribune in 2013. While most turn to writing books or try to reinvent themselves, the erudite and always nattily dressed Colombian reporter Reinaldo Escobar—formerly an excellent writer for the Deseret News’ defunct OK Espanol—decided to go it on his own after he was let go and launch The Spanish Times. Its mission is both to report the news and offer the opportunity for returned LDS missionaries to bone up on their Spanish, and is distributed to public libraries, Latino markets, cultural centers, schools and churches. It’s admirable that rather than join the gloomy mourning for a dying trade, Escobar instead resolved to keep it going.


Best Draft Decision
Trey Burke, the Utah Jazz
Since the days of Stockton, the Utah Jazz have always had a place on the roster for quality guards. And in the 2013 NBA draft, they had to do some serious maneuvering to secure Michigan’s Trey Burke. Drafted ninth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and then immediately traded for Utah’s 14th and 21st picks, Burke missed the first month of the season with a broken index finger. But since that injury, Burke’s been living up to the hype. He was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December and January—the first for the Jazz since Karl Malone—and participated in the Rising Stars Challenge at 2014’s All-Star Weekend.

Best Utah Ambassador
Frank Layden
Yes, former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, hired Jerry Sloan, and drew up plays for the likes of Karl Malone and John Stockton (he also drafted both), but his legacy in the franchise and the wider Utah community stretches far beyond his 1989 retirement from coaching and his 2012 retirement from his Jazz management role. He’s remained an unofficial ambassador for the Jazz—hosting golf tournaments, making goofy commercials, giving pep talks to the Jazz coaching stuff—always with a laugh and a big heart, and recently narrated an audiobook, Doin’ Hard Work, about the Wheelin’ Jazz wheelchair basketball team. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Layden says that his home is Salt Lake City; it’s where he and his wife, Barbara, brought up their children to love basketball and the state—son Scott is the assistant general manager for the San Antonio Spurs, and son Michael manages the Midvale Iggy’s, where the Layden family often goes to watch games (rooting for the Utes over BYU, but cheering for both against any out-of-state team). “What we love about Utah is the people,” Layden says. “They’re wonderful people that have taken us in, and we couldn’t live in a better place.” He hopes to spread the word: “I wish I could get on TV and say to the whole country, the whole world, ‘Hey, I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, because I choose to live there, because of the great people, because of the great weather, because of the great sports, because of the wonderful schools and facilities, the colleges ...’ I think it would be a great selling point.” We think so, too.

Best Sports Podcast
The Taxi Squad

The Taxi Squad love everything local and provide their audience with a perspective on sports that’s not based on arguing for the sake of arguing or fielding listener questions that were screened for air. Their infectious passion is enough to transform lackluster listeners into lifelong supporters.

VIP Voter
Charles Frost/Sister Dottie S. Dixon

Charles Frost is a quiet middle-age man with a twinkle in his eye and a stubbly dome. But when he’s onstage, that dome is usually hidden far beneath the Mormon “big hair” wig of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, the alter-ego he conceptualized as “a counter-culture child of the culture”—in essence, a Mormon mother who understands, Frost says, that at the heart of Mormonism “is love.”

Frost has staged two one-man shows for Sister Dottie. The first, The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, was about coming out, its main message being “never choose church over your child.” In the second play, Sister Dottie’s gay son married his partner and had a child through a surrogate—or “surrogoat” as the malapropism-prone Dottie says. “I try to keep her really connected to the issues,” Frost says. “I write her just ahead of the next big shift.”

Frost finds it ironic that Utah, typically asleep at the wheel as far as gay rights are concerned, “pulled the boulder out of the dam when it came to same-sex marriage.” Indeed, he says, “I believe Utah is at the epicenter of national change of LGBT rights.”

But while he praises Salt Lake’s younger generation for being engaged in their future, he says he wishes he saw “more of that in the LGBT community.” He says he and other activists ask one another, “Who is going to replace us, where are the LGBT leaders of the future?”

There are still battles to be fought, he says. “There’s discrimination in work, in housing. It’s subtle, it’s dark and ugly.”

With two other writers, he’s just finished Sister Dottie’s third play, where the redoubtable Mormon mother “collides literally with Charles Dickens” in Frost’s very particular take on A Christmas Carol. A broader comedy than his previous two efforts, it will run during the 2014 holiday season.

When his friends in other states ask why he chooses to live in a state that many see as backward when it comes to gay rights, he replies, “Someone has to be there in the frontline trenches, throwing the grenades back as they get lobbed in. Someone has to live there to call out discrimination in unique ways, to call it out with humor.”

And that someone, in the form of the big-haired Sister Dottie, meets a thirst, a need, Frost says. Young gay men and women come up to him time and again and tell him, “I wish you were my mom.”

Best Local Blog
Gavin’s Underground
No one can ever claim they didn’t get their say in a Gavin’s Underground feature; the sprawling Q&As with Utah artists, musicians, podcasters, comedians, actors and more are nothing if not comprehensive, taking full advantage of digital space for information overloads we could never fit in print (well, we could, but we’d have to rename the paper Gavins Weekly). Gavin Sheehan covers and discovers more creatives in a month than all local publications combined, earning him the nickname The King of the Underground.
2. Indie Ogden

3. Big Shiny Robot

Best On-Air Recovery
Brooke Graham, KUTV 2
When KUTV 2’s Brooke Graham passed out during a live broadcast in December 2013—and by passed out, we mean a full-on, eyes-rolled-back, knee-bucklin’ back-slapper—no one expected the young reporter to immediately snap out of it, sit up and finish the broadcast. It was an amazing achievement. And when the clip went viral, we became even more impressed by how she handled the aftermath with humor and poise., Twitter: @Brooke_Graham_

Worst Utahn
Gov. Gary Herbert
It’s not that Gov. Gary Herbert is a politician prone to constant policy blunders. In fact, Herbert will often do the right thing—but only after waiting until the last possible moment. Environmental advocates have been calling on “Dirty Herbert” to do something about air quality for years, but it wasn’t until public outrage came to a boil and thousands rallied at the Capitol that he started acting as though cleaner air was his mandate all along. And since the Supreme Court ruled that it was up to states to decide whether they will expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Herbert has been content to “study” the issue for almost two years while Utahns without coverage fall through the cracks. This time it wasn’t until a political opponent called Herbert an “inaction figure” that he suddenly announced his Medicaid plan. Too little care, too late to act—not exactly a winning campaign slogan, now is it?
2. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee

3. John Swallow