After 20 years of publication, 5280 has published a lot of articles. I couldn’t help but wonder after writing so many words—and reading many, many more—which ones stayed alive in the minds of editors, long after they closed an issue. In honor of the magazine’s 20th anniversary, I asked staffers to share those stories with me.
What I realized: Whether it’s a piece they read long before ever stepping foot into this office; a video of themselves swimming against Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin (you can guess who won); or that one article that finally broke through their editor’s skin as they allowed themselves to cry at their desk, some stories are timeless.
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5280 Magazine Staffers Favorite Stories:
Natasha Gardner, Digital Editor and Senior Editor
Changing Nature: “Photographer John Fielder has become the state’s visual ambassador, and Luc Hatlestad could have written a profile article based on that alone. Instead, he introduced us to a man who is complicated and changing. It’s a stunning ‘portrait’ that tells us about ourselves and our state.”
Second Nature: “There’s so much to love about this story (the writing, the parents, the girl), but I find myself rereading it again and again because it is advocacy journalism at its best. Max Potter dove into a controversial topic and treated it with a gentle storytelling voice. The reader won’t feel preached to, but they will come away with a better understanding of the issue—and of people.”
Daliah Singer, Associate Editor
“It’s hard to choose the most memorable stories because we run so many that make you laugh or cry or fall in love with the city. But, if you’re twisting my arm…”
The Forgotten Plains: “One of Jeff Panis’ photographs from this piece is framed in my apartment.”
What Happened to Abbey’s Mom: “With all the stories we’ve run in 20 years, I don’t know that anyone has touched the hearts of the staff—and our readers—more than Nicole Davis.”
Tiny Dancer: “As soon as you see Staci Unrau’s face, she stays with you forever.”
Rewrite: “I’ve fact checked dozens of narratives for 5280. Working on this piece is the only time I remember crying. Talking to parents about children whose lives were cut short and hearing the anguish they still felt—as well as (in some cases) the forgiveness they were able to attain—was incredibly emotional. I wanted to hug them and cry with them, but I had to let them speak and, when they were ready, answer the questions I needed to ask to make sure we told an accurate story. The tears came each time I hung up the phone. “
Geoff Van Dyke, Editorial Director
Pinched. “Pinched is a piece that stands out for me over my almost six years at 5280. We wanted to do a story on immigration to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, which was held in Denver in 2008, and what became “Pinched” started out as an altogether different story. Robert Sanchez was gathering string on the issue when he just happened upon these two guys—one white, one Mexican—in Greeley, who both individually and together perfectly encapsulated this complex topic. They became the foundation of the piece. “Pinched” is an “issue story,” but it doesn’t read like an issue story to me: It reads like a story about two men and their families and their work and their complicated lives. Robert’s great success in creating this artful narrative is taking this topic—immigration—and making it truly human.”
Robert Sanchez, Senior Staff Writer
Private Stites Should Have Been Saved: “When I read this piece, I knew I needed to work with Max Potter.”
The Bet: Could 5280 Staffer Beat Future Olympian Missy Franklin: “Me swimming with Missy Franklin. No need to elaborate.”
The Fire Next Door: “This is the brainchild of my fantastic editor, Geoff Van Dyke, and it was pulled off in part because of an amazing anecdote to close this emotional story.”
Maximillian Potter, Editor-At-Large:
Miracle of Molly: “Miracle of Molly is a memorable one for me for a couple of reasons. First, there’s the subject matter: The story of the Nash family, a mother and father—Lisa and Jack—facing an unimaginable dilemma and genetically engineering a baby, their second child, in an effort to save their dying first-born. Second, the experience of editing and working with Amanda Faison.
When I arrived here 10 years ago, Amanda was a Wonder Woman, overseeing a small handful of staffers. She was responsible for assigning, editing, writing an amazing amount of magazine content, not to mentioning managing just about all things editorial. She rarely had time to take a breath, to write, which is what she ached to do. With this feature assignment—a mix of so much technical and emotionally demanding reporting—she wondered if she could pull it off. Watching her realize what she was capable of, seeing her begin to find her voice and wonderful way with a feature, which she has since replicated so many times … that was magnificently inspiring and, as an editor, a colleague, a fellow writer, it was inspiring on many levels.”
Kasey Cordell, Senior Editor
Undefeated: “I can still remember the day I read this story. I started it on my ride to work and became so engrossed I missed my stop. The vivid—albeit horrifying—opening scenes in Lindsey’s intensely personal story have stuck with me all these years.”
Lindsey Koehler, Features Editor
Out in the Cold: “You know it’s a good story when you can repeat, verbatim, lines that you liked five years after the story was published.”
Right to Live: “Profiles are shockingly difficult to write, but this story is masterfully reported and written in a way that makes the reader feel like they completely understand a person who should be entirely un-understandable.”
Anatomy of a Murder: “The perfect Colorado murder story. Period.”
A Place at the Table: “Gut-wrenching and honest, this personal essay will make you cry and laugh and cry again.”
Second Nature: “A story about a little boy who wanted to live as a little girl and all of the confusion and obstacles and issues that come with gender-nonconforming people. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read.”
Twisted: “A quick-read profile of a comedian from Denver who has cerebral palsy that will definitely make you laugh.”
Chris Outcalt, Assistant Editor
Power Broken: I’ve always been struck by the way in which Max Potter chose to tell the story of the implosion of Willie Shepherd. At the time this piece was published in 2010, Shepherd was a politically wired attorney who had become one of Denver’s most influential figures. But Power Broken is about much more than just Shepherd’s collapse. Potter skillfully frames the story through the lens of two junior attorneys who stand up to their powerful and corrupt boss. What’s more, these two attorneys don’t stand up to Shepherd for their own personal gain, they do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not easy, and yet they do it anyway. To me, Power Broken is something of an underdog story—one that contains a lesson I think we can all learn from.
—Follow digital assistant editor Jerilyn Forsythe on Twitter at @jlforsyt.