A Best of the Springs section was one of Gil Asakawa’s journalistic holy grails even before he came to The Gazette in 1992.
The former entertainment editor was the driving force behind the newspaper’s first GO! section and subsequent Best of the Springs, which launched in 1995.
Asakawa came to town from Denver, where he’d worked as a reporter and music editor for Westword, the city’s alternative weekly. He helped start that publication’s Best of Denver section in the mid-’80s.
“It’s not a new idea,” said Asakawa, now student media manager at the University of Colorado. “And they’re very popular. It ignites a community of readers to get involved with the publication.”
In those pre-Yelp and TripAdvisor days, paper ballots flooded the newsroom and votes were tallied by hand. The section offered reader picks and staff picks, at first determined by the arts and entertainment staff and eventually expanded to include staff members in other departments, such as sports. Expert picks by knowledgeable folks in the community also made it into the magazine.
“Reader picks might be commonly known, but they’re not that hidden gem that will help you discover something amazing,” said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of Downtown Colorado Springs. She took over as entertainment and Best of the Springs editor in the mid-’90s. “We struggled over letting readers have their say, but if we did only them, there are amazing things readers wouldn’t know about or stories not getting told. Without us telling them, the guide wouldn’t be as strong. It was our job to be out and about discovering those things.”
In the early 2000s, Warren Epstein took over entertainment and Best of the Springs editorial duties, upgrading the section’s paper version into a glossy magazine in 2007. Memorable covers included local muralist Douglas Rouse’s 3D chalk art pieces with students and Pueblo artist James Wolnick’s giant mural on the side of a warehouse visible from Interstate 25.
During Epstein’s tenure, voting went digital, and the number of reader picks was increased at the request of then-publisher Steve Pope, while staff picks were reduced. The Best of the Springs party was created in 2007 in tandem with the section’s first glossy edition, and while the inaugural celebration was at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, it eventually found a home at the Pikes Peak Center.
“It (Best of the Springs) really hit the sweet spot of what we tried to do on a weekly basis in GO!,” said Epstein, executive director of marketing and communications at Pikes Peak Community College. “To use journalism as a vehicle to help people live their lives better and to enjoy living in the Pikes Peak region more. Knowing where you’d find the best salad and hiking trail all worked toward the idea that you want to keep (Best of the Springs) around because it’s valuable in making life better.”