5 Local Blogs You Need To Be Reading

While Ann Arborites love to debate the quality of local “traditional” media outlets, it can be easy to forget that local blogs provide a whole other world of insight and information. We know it can be difficult sometimes to tear your eyes away from Concentrate, but there are some incredibly talented local bloggers out there reporting on life in our community and beyond, usually doing so just out of sheer passion and love. Selecting for maximum diversity of format and subject matter (no sleight to the many fine blogs left off this short list!), here are our recommendations for five local blogs you need to check out post haste.

Damn Arbor 
Site visits: 8,000-10,000 per month
Established: 2010

Why you should be reading it: Because these guys cover Ann Arbor with a personable touch, and they often break small and large stories in the process. Originally formed by a group of college friends, Damn Arbor’s multiple authors function somewhat like a traditional news team, with each contributor adding a different facet to the blog’s coverage. Count on DA founder and leader Ben Connor Barrie for gently humorous observations on Ann Arbor politics, the natural world and under-the-radar events; Erika Jost for Detroit- and feminism-related posts; and Edward Vielmetti (a blog proprietor in his own right) for thoughts on how to get a hold of government documents and what can be found in them. (In the interest of fair disclosure, it should be noted that the author of this piece has also contributed a post or two to DA in his time.)

Although most of Damn Arbor's bloggers aren’t journalists or writers by trade, they share a robust curiosity that has them ferreting out info from various corners of the Internet and from just walking around town. The posts are short but sweet, and give you a regularly updated snapshot of the interests, conversations and arguments that are bubbling beneath Ann Arbor's surface, presenting a nicely balanced look at the local issues and goings-on you may have missed. Also be sure to sign up for their active and often amusing Twitter feed.

Site visits: 35,000 per month
Established: 2002

Why you should be reading it: Because founder Mark Maynard is one of Arbor-Ypsi’s OG blogging bad-asses. Maynard published the notable ‘90s zine Crimewave USA, and the fierce punk rock spirit of the zine world pervades his online presence. He’s an outspoken political commentator, particularly when it comes to defending his city of residence, Ypsilanti (although he’s certainly not afraid to call out city government for lame-brained moves). He’s a decidedly left-of-center voice on state and national issues as well, and he’s got his finger on the pulse enough to scoop local news outlets from time to time.

The blog isn’t all Maynard’s opinion, though. Maynard is an excellent and extremely inquisitive interviewer, and his Q&As with local business owners and artists (and his ongoing “Exit Interview” series with outbound area residents) are always fascinating. But most importantly, Maynard is a skillful moderator, fostering intelligent and respectful discussions in the comments on even his most provocative posts. A vital community resource, a virtual back fence, and an outlet for Maynard's admittedly obsessive-compulsive tendencies, MarkMaynard.com embodies everything a great local blog should aspire to be. 

Informed Comment 
Site visits: 617,000 page views per month
Established: 2002

Why you should be reading it: Because author Juan Cole has a laser focus on Middle East politics, and decades of expertise to back up his insights. Born an Army brat to two native Virginian parents, Cole developed a fascination with Islamic culture in his mid-teens while his father was stationed in Asmara, Eritrea, in the early years of that state’s fight for independence from Ethiopia. Currently the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at U-M, he’s authored several books on the Muslim world and has guested on just about every national TV news program you can think of. Unless you’re thinking of O’Reilly Factor, that is…Cole’s politics probably wouldn’t gel too well there.

Cole reports a lot of straightforward news, but he also takes some more radical pro-Muslim views not often heard from white American commentators–such as a recent piece suggesting that Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize win may dilute her message, rather than honoring it. Cole is a world-class scholar and his progressive commentary is thoughtful, vital and totally locally sourced.

SLICE Ann Arbor 
Established: 2013

Why you should be reading it: Because it’s a classy and eclectic little publication profiling a diverse cross-section of area residents worth reading about. Author and founder Barbara Wylan Sefton has written for glossy periodicals on the local level like Hour Detroit, and Gourmet on the national level, and their refined influence is clearly evident on her elegantly designed blog. Each entry is a profile of a different notable local, following the same formalistic template: a short biography, a list of “Favorites” (books, destinations, music, etc.) and a Q&A, the meat of each entry, headlined “The Query.” Sefton covers a fascinating assortment of local personalities, starting last year with the Purple Rose Theatre’s artistic director, Guy Sanville, and working her way up to Espresso Bar owner Sanford Bledsoe III for her most recent entry. In between she’s talked to journalists, designers, dancers, professors, chefs, musicians, architects and farmers. Sefton is a thoughtful interviewer, and even if you already know the person she’s talking to you’re likely to learn something new about him or her.

Meg Goes Nom Nom
Site visits: 9,600 per month
Established: 2010

Why you should be reading it: Because everyone loves a good food blog, right? Blogger Megan Halvorson fulfills some of our need for local eatery coverage (R.I.P. A2GastroBoy and Eat It Detroit), while also offering a tantalizing look into her own culinary adventures at home. Halvorson’s not a food professional, but she has a clear curiosity for cuisine, as demonstrated by her regular “What I’ve Been Nomming Lately” posts, which list her diverse recent experiments in the kitchen and dining out. Longer posts go into detail on recipes and various culinary specialties (like a recent post on barbecue), but our favorite attraction is the restaurant reviews. Halvorson offers even-handed critical assessments that are concise but still more in-depth than your average Yelp review or the tempered you'll find in the Ann Arbor News. She’s thorough in trying a good sampling of dishes (and providing mouth-watering photo documentation), and considering other relevant aspects of the establishment from service to décor. If we were to have one bit of advice for Halvorson as she continues to fight the good (food) fight, it would be: more restaurant reviews, please!

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and lead writer for Metromode and Concentrate.

All photos by Doug Coombe

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