What Tampa Bay Reads: New Media Sites To Share

The Tampa Bay region's creative minds are taking to the Internet to share thoughts, ideas, innovations, creations and just about anything else people will read and pass along.

Here, 83 Degrees Media takes a look at four of the Tampa Bay region's growing media sites with a focus on who's behind them, how they came about and what the future holds.

New Roots News

Year Started: 2010

Described as: “A contributor-based news source to inform, educate and involve the community.”

When co-founders Nick Hinckley and Lily Reisman decided to start St. Petersburg-based New Roots News a little more than two years ago, they had one goal in mind: To start a new nonprofit news source to empower citizen journalists. Hinckley and Reisman would take all of their knowledge of journalism, training the people of the local Tampa Bay community to produce media of their own.

"I was really interested in public journalism at the time and was really frustrated with the way current events were being portrayed,'' Hinckley says. "So many local events were being overlooked and the ones that were being selected were either incredibly sad or incredibly irrelevant.''

Hinckley, eager to pull together some sort of relevant online news source, was introduced to Reisman and the two began spreading word about New Roots News. Eventually, the majority of their contributors were people throughout the community they met and spoke with face-to-face, as well as recruited writers from the University of South Florida School of Mass Communications.

"Growing up in Tampa, I have a pretty strong network,'' Hinckley says. "For whatever reason, it's just kind of kept going. It doesn't make any money. We do it just because we love to do it.''

Posting one article a day, Hinckley considers New Roots News supplemental to print outlets, simply trying to cover news items that aren't covered anywhere else. His main goal? Giving the community a chance to write and speak about what they want to write and speak about. Growing organically, Hinckley has high hopes for the site.

"We're not really trying to expand content because that's been growing steadily on its own, but at some point, we plan to bump new stories up to two to five a day because of a backlog of content,'' Hinckley says. "We would like to become a more time sensitive news source so that things can happen and we can post on it the very next day.''

Currently, Hinckley and Resiman are focusing on their next Contribute event -- an event focusing on community participation and action while giving back. Teaming up with The Studio@620, each event focuses on a more specific issue highlighted by guest speakers and panelists.

Tampa Bay Food Monster

Year Started: 2010

Described as: "A food review blog which endeavors to entertain as much as bring competent food reviews to people living in the Tampa Bay area.''

Tampa Bay Food Monster's Rusty Gillespie isn't necessarily a healthy eater. He's not a snobbish one either. He eats at fast food restaurants frequently and considers some of his favorite restaurants to be hole-in-the-wall joints that serve greasy food at decent prices. Basically, Gillespie loves food. Hungry for more, he decided to start a Tampa-based food blog: Tampa Bay Food Monster.

"This was born out of too much free time at work and a powerful hunger,'' Gillespie says. "I would spend hours pursuing other food blogs in lieu of actually eating, but the more I read, the hungrier I got.''

Soon, Gillespie began mimicking a food review writing style for his own person blog before deciding his reviews needed a place of their own the Internet -- somewhere these entertaining local food and restaurant reviews could be shared with others in the Tampa Bay region.

"The blog is a completely open canvas for me. I never shy away from any ideas I have based on how improper they might seem,'' Gillespie says. "I try to engage people in my reviews through the power of entertainment and, I feel, even if you're not in the Tampa Bay area, it's still a pretty good read.''

Priding Tampa Bay Food Monster on its lack of censorship, one of Gillespie's favorite things about running the blog is the freedom to write what he wants, when he wants, calling the Internet a "unique home for content;'' the ability to spread word about his blog and connect with readers via sites like Facebook and Urbanspoon comes in a close second.

Through these connections, Gillespie hopes to continue on the course he's set for himself, dedicating more time to the blog.

"I enjoy doing blogger events and food challenges, but in the past few months, I've had less time for these things,'' Gillespie says. "I'd really like to focus on diversifying the content, as well as increasing the frequency of my reviews. Hopefully the opportunity to do so will present itself and the more intense and ambitious concepts I have in mine will be able to come to fruition.''

Neighborhood News Bureau

Year Started: 2009

Described as: "An online publication aiming to be a focal point for the St. Petersburg Midtown area dependent on the output of the University of South Florida St. Pete's journalism students.''

Originally founded in 1991 by USF St. Pete (USFSP) Department of Journalism and Media Studies Professors Robert Dardenne and Michael Killenberg, the Midtown Neighborhood News Bureau (NNB) began as a course where students wrote stories on the people, events and issues of the Midtown neighborhood in St. Petersburg.

"Midtown has been historically under served by the press. The Times focused on it a little bit over the years, but a lot of things were happening when we began NNB and the community didn't think the local press was serving it as well as it could,'' Dardenne says. "As professors, we thought we had an opening to help serve the local community while serving our students, giving them a measure of what it would be like to report in an urban area.''

Giving USFSP students an opportunity to express themselves, NNB opened a working newsroom in March 2006 at 2335 22nd Ave. S. The bureau was and is currently staffed by undergraduate and graduate students, serving the USFSP campus and the surrounding Midtown community by offering the student-written stories to local publications such as the St. Pete Times.

In 2009, NNB went beyond everything Dardenne and Killenberg had envisioned when Professor Loretha Cleveland joined the department, becoming the head of the NNB. Ultimately, Cleveland took things into her own hands, transforming NNB into the online publication it is today: NNB News.

"We've kind of shifted from a true bureau-type operation where we create stories for other people and now focus on our website,'' Dardenne says. "The site depends solely on the students of that semester, giving them the opportunity to present information that doesn't always get presented in the larger press.''

Currently, Cleveland and the USFSP students are working on a newer website version of what's currently available in hopes of developing NNB into a focal point for the Midtown community. According to Dardenne, a main goal is to develop it into a publication where the local community can contribute content, as well.

"We've talked about this being much more of a community communication center where the people of Midtown can work out of the bureau to create and write their own stories, in addition to students,'' Dardenne says.

Tasting Tampa

Year Started: 2011

Described as: "A site showcasing where to get delicious food in Tampa.''

After getting laid off of his job on the first day of July 2011, Tasting Tampa's Todd Sturtz became bored. Having some experience contributing to Creative Loafing and friends' websites, Sturtz decided it was time to do his own thing.

"Since I actually had a little bit of time to do it, I started a food blog,'' Sturtz says. "Coincidentally, at the time, the gourmet food truck scene in Tampa was just gaining momentum.''

Sturtz began visiting and reviewing various food trucks throughout the Tampa Bay area like Wicked 'Wiches and Da Kine Hawaiian Cafe, quickly becoming friends with a handful of owners. Taking his knowledge of food and, now, food trucks, Sturtz hosted Tampa Bay's first Food Truck Rally on September 24th in Hyde Park. Think: Tampa Bay's best food trucks, live music and the company of fellow food lovers all in one spot.

"The response was overwhelming,'' Sturtz says. "More than 5,000 people showed up at the first one and we've been getting non-stop requests to do them all over the Tampa Bay area.''

Since, Sturtz has hosted a second Rally in Tampa, one in Largo, two in St. Pete and one in Brandon.

"The Food Truck Rallies quickly became too much for me to handle alone, so I partnered up with a good friend and fellow foodie, Michael Blasco,'' Sturtz says. "He has the experience and contacts to help us grow quickly.''

As Tasting Tampa continues to grow, Sturtz encourages readers to support local businesses, exploring something other than the easy fallback of the chain restaurant.

"This goes for food, wine, beer, produce -- everything,'' Sturtz says. "Support the people that put love and effort into the quality of what they're serving you and not big corporations that are concerned far more with profit margin than the product you're getting.''

As far as the future goes, Sturtz has big plans for expanding Tasting Tampa. This year, the addition of an event featuring monthly private 5-course dinner parties called 13th Step has recently seen reality with great success. In fact, the first event sold out just 24 minutes after being announced.

"People will get to try out some of the most interesting and artful dishes that local Tampa Bay area chefs have to offer,'' Sturtz says. "They'll be very limited and first-come, first-served so keep an eye out on the Facebook page for launch announcements.''

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found eating at The Bricks, walking around her Egypt Lake-Leto neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Curtis Hixon Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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