There's a popular saying heard in New Orleans—“laissez les bons temps rouler”—which means “let the good times roll.”

We did just that June 2-4 at the 42nd annual City and Regional Magazine Association national conference, held in the Big Easy. It’s hard to beat the joy of being the center of attention in a police-escorted, band-led, bead-throwing parade down Bourbon Street with 350 of my peers en route to dinner at Antoine’s. But we did, the next night, when a panel of industry heavyweights named Columbus Monthly the best city magazine in the country in our circulation size.

The feedback from a panel of judges that included more than 100 of the most respected names in the magazine industry—representing Advertising Age, Better Homes & Gardens, Consumer Reports, Esquire, Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, the Village Voice and many more—was flattering and empowering.

“Featuring a remarkable breadth and depth of coverage, Columbus Monthly creates a rich sense of place and gives voice to the full spectrum of its citizens’ experiences and interests,” reported one judge. “Never resorting to superficiality or boosterism, this magazine is an indispensable resource for connecting with a diverse, vibrant region and its people.”

Another judge’s critique of the magazine barely fit the definition of the word, giving us nines and 10s in all eight categories we were graded on, from the quality of our writing and reporting to the quality of our covers and design. “From compelling topics to politics to style and culture, [this] is a very smart-looking magazine,” the judge wrote.

It was fitting that this year’s conference was held in New Orleans. It’s hard to imagine a city with more local flavor, from its Creole and Cajun cultures to its jazz and blues, its gumbo and beignets, its architecture and ever-present palette of purple, gold and green. And that’s precisely what city magazines celebrate—local flavor.

The conference’s message was clear: Localism is the new nationalism. “America isn’t McDonald’s,” said author and historian Doug Brinkley, one of the conference’s keynote speakers. America is the sum of all those local characteristics, the homegrown shops and restaurants and music. “There’s a richness in local originality,” Brinkley said. “That’s America.”

“Of all the things we need to be, the No. 1 thing is authentic,” said Terry McDonell, legendary former editor of Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal and many others. “You can’t fake authenticity to the locals. Be authentic, not cosmetic.”

“It’s nice to be niche,” said Rebecca Darwin, the CEO of Garden & Gun, which has built a national following of folks who celebrate Southern life through its magazine, digital content and more than 70 events held nationwide. She continued: “We exist for two reasons: to tell and create stories and to connect with those people who love those stories.”

Our story is Columbus, and we tell it, according to some respected judges, better than any other city magazine our size. But connecting with people who love the story of Columbus—the wonders and the warts—is what drives us. Enjoy this, our Best of Columbus issue. We’re happy some outsiders determined we’re part of what’s best. Thanks for inviting us into your homes.

Eric Lyttle