The future of media is taking root right here in Mid Michigan

Our always-escalating habit of hitting the keyboard for information rather than turning to the printed page is all about access to what we want, when we want it and where we want it like never before--not to mention preventing ink-stained fingertips.

The world wide web is turning out to be an wide open invitation to most anyone who wants to publish a website about whatever topic they--and their readers--desire. Mid Michiganders are getting in on this online publishing game, becoming new media pioneers and bloggers reaching audiences near and far.

Mt. Pleasant resident Kathy Backus is one such pioneer. She decided in 2007 to launch an email business newsletter that grew into a full-fledged, multi-faceted online magazine as a way to publicize topics out of Mid Michigan that were escaping the notice of mainstream media vehicles like newspapers and TV stations. In 2009, Vision Mid Michigan expanded to an online magazine that publishes every other Wednesday.

"We saw a void of positive news stories," says Backus, who is still amazed all these years later that the lead story in one local newspaper was about a man with his pants down outside a local day care.

It's sites like Vision Mid Michigan that are giving Mid Michiganders an ever-growing online fix of business news, local happenings and access to more specialized subjects such as food, travel, nutrition and nature--just to name a few.

Mid-Michigan Second Wave, a local new media publication itself, got the low-down on a few new media stand-outs in Mid Michigan:

Vision Mid Michigan
Year started: 2007
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Vision Mid Michigan, a Mt. Pleasant-based online magazine, brings readers news and feature stories about businesses, people, events and more across a wide swath of Mid Michigan. The goal when the publication formed was to be an alternative source of information about local businesses.

"Our whole editorial philosophy was about shining a light on the positive things happening in our region," Backus says. "We had seen a void of positive news being covered in the traditional media, and more and more people were starting to get their news online."

There is no main office for this publishing house because new media is also about a new way of running a company. A team of freelance writers, photographers and editors cast a net for news and interesting info across the region.

Vision Mid Michigan's staff meetings are held by conference calls or face-to-faces at a coffee shop, a microbrewery or other local businesses.

And the readers are there. Vision Mid Michigan, which covers a lot of miles across Isabella, Gratiot, Clare and Metoska, Midland and Big Rapids counties, has about 37,000 visitors a month and is growing, Backus says. Its e-news blast goes to about 10,000 subscribers every other Wednesday.

With Backus leading the way as publisher, Vision Mid Michigan is put out with a managing editor, an assistant editor, a photo editor, a web/technology person and a revolving team of interns from Central Michigan University.

She is looking to hire a sales person to keep the site financially viable. In the process she hopes to change the perception that Michigan, and Mid Michigan, are being left in the dust by job seekers, entrepreneurs and expanding companies.

Vision Mid Michigan will soon launch a section called Living Social in partnership with local Realtors for features on recent re-locators to Mid Michigan.

"Our intent is to chip away at the whole brain drain notion, to show that there are people landing career type jobs in the region," Backus says.

She sees her site and other Mid Michigan-centric sites as a sign of things to come.

"It's really just bursting here in Mid Michigan. We're just beginning to enter the blogosphere. It hasn't boiled to the top yet in Mid Michigan," she says. "It's just the start."

Around the Plate
Year started: 2009
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One blog that's eating up some space and readers' time is Around the Plate, the brainchild of dietician Kati Mora. Mora, a mother of 2- and 4-year-old boys, runs the site from her Mt. Pleasant home and also works for a Kalamazoo public relations firm. Her site started as a way to clear up false and confusing information about nutrition, and it's grown to be a both a fun and serious read on eating well, cooking well and understanding nutrition and food through her blog and fellow bloggers who make up the online community.

With total site visits of 2,164, total page views of 4,183, 513 Facebook followers, 1,333 Twitter followers and a Klout score of 57, Around the Plate is growing weekly, Mora says. It mostly reaches a nationwide audience. Mora, 26, says she's ready to be more of a local presence. She has plans to team up with local businesses to spread the word about their food and her blog and she'll also attend a bloggers meet-up in July, an event that can bring more local exposure.

Around the Plate gives readers a taste of how to eat healthily, provides recipes, cooking tips and links to other similarly-minded blogs that make up the site's community along with lots of other food fodder. And as with most blogs, part of the schtick is getting to know the bloggers personally, from their pets' names and pet peeves to what they're eating at almost any time.

Regular contributors and three interns--dietetic majors from CMU--put the site out to the world. Readers come directly to the blog or via Facebook and Twitter, and besides Kati's blogs, they will find links to other nutrition blogs, websites and summaries of national and international news on dietary topics.

It was personal and professional experiences that came together to get the blog stewing.

"I had just finished watching the movie Julie and Julia," she says. "I had always felt my cooking skills weren't that amazing, and it inspired me to get better, to bring my work as a dietitian together with cooking. I felt I could use my blog as a motivation to get in the kitchen more."

It was also Mora's regular interaction with clients and their stacks of Internet info that convinced her that an accurate place for nutrition information was needed.

"Clients were coming in with all this information and we would spend hours going over what they had found, figuring out what was accurate and what wasn't," Mora says. "I wanted to get some science behind the information out there."

So far she's accomplished what she set out to do, but she wants to make Around the Plate a local household name.

"It's great that we have a national audience, but we're looking to build more local relationships," Mora says. "I think we're right at the very cusp of (new media and blogging) for Mt. Pleasant. I think we're going to see more and more people locally starting getting in on it."

Midland Tomorrow, Saginaw Future and Bay Future
Year started: 2009

These sites are run by the Economic Development Corporation serving Midland County, and meant to promote manufacturing businesses, says Midland Tomorrow marketing manager Ryan Richards. The three entities also work together to attract solar manufacturing business to the region.

While the sites are focused on promoting and attracting business and creating jobs, they've also become go-tos for locals looking for what's going on in their own back yards and for out-of-towners wanting the skinny on Midland, Saginaw and Bay City. Visitors to the site are primarily from the U.S. and primarily Michigan.

"We have assorted visits from across the world. My boss just went to a couple of trade shows in Asia and we noticed more visits from there," says Richards.

"We give an overview of what it's like to live here. That's important to the companies so their employees know what they're getting into," Richards says. "Also, just in general if you are moving here, it will give you an idea of what we have here, what's happening here in the area. We're not a news site, but we do have information about the area."

Richards says the latest version of the economic development websites have made it easier to connect with people on a regular basis.

"We're just breaking into the social media networking, and working hard to connect with people that way and deliver breaking news as it happens," he says.

Kim North Shine is a freelance writer based in Michigan.
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