Best of Baltimore
Best of Baltimore 2023
Our annual celebration of the best that Charm City has to offer.
Written and edited by Ron Cassie
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE MORGAN
The Maryland Park Service and Maryland Natural Resources Police are not the first organizations that spring to mind when imagining a toxic workplace culture and #MeToo sexual abuse scandal. Kudos then to Baltimore Banner enterprise reporter Julie Scharper for her dogged reporting and investigation into the scandal after longtime Gunpowder Falls State Park manager Michael Browning was arrested last fall and for following the story through his suspension and subsequent conviction for fourth-degree sexual assault. After numerous interviews with current and former employees amid Scharper’s digging, Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina was fired as well for failing to respond to years-old complaints against Browning.
BREAKING NEWS COVERAGE
WBAL-TV recently received well-deserved National Headliner awards for “Best Newscast” and “Best Coverage of a Live Breaking News Event” following its diligent work filming and reporting on the devastating early morning Stricker Street fire in January. The vacant home fire—a recurring problem, as WBAL showed—led to the death of three firefighters: Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler, and Kenny Lacayo. The station’s breaking coverage of the fire, rowhouse collapse, recovery of the bodies, and news conferences from local officials continued through the day. The tragedy later led to the resignation of Baltimore City Fire Chief Niles Ford.
Lady Brion Gill
In an Afro guest opinion piece, city poet and activist “Lady” Brion Gill addressed the remarkable, if overlooked, story around the rejection of accomplished Baltimore artist Ernest Shaw’s first commissioned painting of Thurgood Marshall for the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis. The painting was labeled “too aggressive” by the commissioning committee, and Gill pointed out that Shaw’s second—and accepted—painting portrayed Marshall as a younger, less-threatening man in a loose-fitting suit. “I couldn’t help but think about this as a metaphor for how Blackness in white-dominated settings is curated and ultimately watered down,” Gill wrote.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REPORTER
There may be no more urgent human rights issue for journalists to examine than the living conditions of our prisons—and the context around those we incarcerate. Banner reporter Ben Conarck has done yeoman’s work documenting, among other things, Baltimore’s responsibility to address medical, mental health, and drug treatment care in its jails; Maryland’s terrible record of incarcerating Black children; and the harassment that trans individuals face in prison. Time will tell if Mayor Brandon Scott and new Gov. Wes Moore effectively address the crisis in the city and state’s jails and prisons.
I Got a Monster
Based on the book by the same name by Baltimore journalists Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, the Prime Video documentary I Got a Monster proved the single most compelling look into the infamous Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF). For all the detailed chronicling of the day-today criminal enterprise run by the officers in their book—as well as in We Own This City, David Simon’s HBO series based on Banner reporter Justin Fenton’s excellent book—there is nothing as powerful as seeing the everyday Baltimoreans who suffered at the hand of the GTTF on screen, telling their story.
Even as the news around climate change worsens at an ever-hastening rate, there remains a dearth of in-depth, regional reporting around not just climate change, but the environment in general. Eroding History, a 27-minute documentary from longtime Chesapeake Bay reporter Rona Kobell, longtime Baltimore journalist Sean Yoes, and photographer/director André Chung, beautifully—and tragically—documents the threat of rising sea levels on the historical Black community of Deal Island. No doubt, it is just the start of stories of similar loss all over the Eastern Shore.
Picking Up the Pieces
If you don’t have children in Baltimore City public schools, it can be easy to overlook or ignore the devasting toll that gun violence takes on our young people. Last fall, in a heart-wrenching tragedy, Mergenthaler Vocational High School football player Jeremiah Brogden was shot and killed between the last bell of the day and the team meal before that evening’s game with Edmondson-Westside. In “Picking Up the Pieces,” former Beat deputy editor J. Brian Charles, a past contributor to this magazine now at The Chronicle of Higher Education, gracefully places the reader with the team and coaches as they try to both honor Brogden’s life and grapple with his death.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCHAUN CHAMPION
Full disclosure: Local photographer Schaun Champion freelances for this magazine from time to time, but it’s her work at the Baltimore Beat, where she serves as director of photography, that is being recognized here. From the very first issue and cover portrait of Poppleton activist Sonia Eaddy in front of the community’s unique and colorful Sarah Ann Street alley houses—acquired by the city through eminent domain and once scheduled for demolition—Champion’s portraits and images have created a striking visual identity for the Beat, the city’s Black-led alt-weekly. She is also much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it—as one might infer from her unconventional self-portrait above.
The ownership of the city’s vacant houses has long been somewhat opaque. Yes, there are local slumlords who hold onto these, hoping someday their “investment,” or rather lack thereof, will pay off. Yes, the city owns many, but apparently lacks the wherewithal to do anything productive with them. Incredibly, as an investigation by Banner reporter Justin Fenton revealed, many of the vacant homes have been cobbled together and sold in recent years—sight unseen—to investors around the globe in what is alleged to be a type of Ponzi scheme.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIKE MORGAN
It is to his credit that we forget O’s announcer Kevin Brown had big shoes to fill when he took over from Gary Thorne in the MASN booth. Baltimore has been blessed with terrific play-by-play men over the years—from Chuck Thompson to Jon Miller—and now that includes the exceptionally talented Brown, who combines genuine craftsmanship with evident preparation, deep baseball knowledge, and youthful enthusiasm. He’s an easy listen, like all good baseball play-by-play announcers, and he brings out the best in stellar color commentators Jim Palmer and Ben McDonald.