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Utne Reader announces their Alternative Press Awards next month, and several magazines with local connections are up for honors: The Sun for Writing Excellence, Stay Free! for Cultural Coverage, and No Depression for Arts and Literature. Being nominated is significant; just surviving another year, with the magazine industry in such dire straights, is even more impressive.

Many good magazines didn't make it through the year, and many are on thin ice. Emerge, The Realist, Libido and Blu all closed their doors. Overall, ad pages, the yardstick the industry uses to measure success, were down 11 percent. Business magazines lost 50 percent of their ad space. Outside saw their ad pages drop by a fifth, and they'd been poised to celebrate their 25th anniversary year in style.

Fear not periodical lovers. The new year's coming, with many new titles on the way. In the meantime, here are my favorites of the past year. Here's hoping they're around this time next year, too.

It's hard to believe that No Depression is 36 issues old. They're still fresh, ahead of the "hot" curve, or just off on a side road, having a good time. Anyone who's "made" now was in ND way before they were famous. The lengthy features in this mag aren't celeb lovefests, while small indie record label ads keep the mag's look funky. In a field dominated by hype and cover deals, there are fewer more honest magazines around. Note: Subscriptions to ND come with bonus CDs!

nest has only three employees; they must never sleep or even leave their NYC studio apartments. Each issue of their magazine is inspired. They play with texture, color and language, and with wit (check out their "Goldfringe Plumbers" ambiance) and brilliant layouts present interior-design style with an accessible seriousness. Put nest in your nest and you'll feel very recherché.

Few magazines are as committed to a form as N.C. Crossroads. Four times a year Lisa Yarger, Katherine Kubel and Harlan Gradin publish a broadside for the North Carolina Humanities Council on the theme of weaving cultures and community. N.C. Crossroads is an award-winning grassroots literary 'zine freely distributed across the state. Find a copy.

Utne Reader staffers describe themselves as "spending each day happily swimming in piles of some of the best publications the alternative press has to offer." Sounds like fun. Their eclectic magazine reflects their readers, from way out to way serious, immediate to cool. Bringing an eager activism to every theme and story it highlights, Utne is never boring.

You can find nest at www.nestmagazine.com; No Depression at www.nodepression.net; N.C. Crossroads at www.nchumanities.org, and Utne Reader at www.utne.com.

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