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Tampa Bay Goes Online: New Media Sites Thrive

Brian Bailey and Dexter Fabian are the creators of I Love the Burg. - Julie Busch Branaman
Brian Bailey and Dexter Fabian are the creators of I Love the Burg. - Julie Busch Branaman
In our digital age, iPads are replacing print magazines and newspapers. Nooks, Kindles and applications like iBooks are making paperbacks a thing of the past. Gen Yers -- Millennials -- turn to Wikipedia and search engines like Google and Yahoo before the thought of busting out an encyclopedia ever crosses their minds.

As the future of many traditional print resources continues to darken, creative minds behind new media sites around the globe are quickly finding opportunities to step in, turning the spotlight to fresh, web-based creations. In Tampa Bay, the evolving media scene is no different.

Here, 83 Degrees Media takes a look at five of the area's coolest emerging media sites with a focus on who's behind them, how they came about and what the future holds.

I Love The 'Burg

Year Started: 2009

Described as: "A hyper-local media source that can and will do things that mainstream media can't; it's a little more independent and nimble."

Originally, launched by Brian Bailey, president of Rearden Killion Communications, as an attempt to take advantage of Facebook during the depths of the recession, I Love The 'Burg quickly became much more.

"My officemates and I were sitting around, panicking, thinking it was looking pretty ugly out there and wanted to find a way to show our talents,'' says Bailey. ''We didn't want it to be all about us, so we ended up starting a page about Downtown St. Pete that was nothing more than a way to share information, mostly from other sources.''

Posting links to articles from various publications throughout the Tampa Bay region, the page quickly evolved as Bailey shared his sources on the I Love The Burg Facebook page. He continued with his day job at Rearden Killion as the pages' fan base multiplied, but according to Bailey, the publication isn't profitable and doesn't have to be because of his agency.

"We don't have a local parent, we don't have an international conglomerate watching over us, we don't have deadlines and we don't have sales targets. Hell, we don't even have to make money,'' he says. "At the end of the day, I think it makes us the most independent medium in this market.''

I Love The 'Burg made the switch from Facebook to their website in May 2010. With the site, Bailey plans to continue promoting the region, in hopes of making St. Pete a place where companies want to do business. Seeing a thriving skyline is among his goals.

"We really want to make St. Pete a place where people want to live while being a viable place for a Fortune 500 to come and relocate,'' he says. "Do we have any definitive plans? No, not really. Just to grow the site and grow the 'burg.''

Carlos Eats

Year started: 2010

Described as: "A resource that provides readers with insider knowledge on the best places to eat and the latest coverage on food events in Tampa Bay and beyond.''

An avid restaurant diner, Carlos Hernandez has dabbled in restaurant reviews since 2006 with the start of Yelp. After catching up on a friends' food website based out of Orlando, Hernandez grew dissatisfied with reviewing restaurants on the site and decided to start his own blog in April 2010.

"Carlos Eats has taken me to places I never would have discovered without a food blog and has been a really great way for me to help boost local communities by shedding light on great places to eat,'' he says. "I try to seek places that are affordable or worth readers' money, thinking in terms of the present day average American instead of dining at the finest, most expensive restaurants that, today, many can't afford.''

A strictly opinion-based blog, Carlos Eats prides itself on its lack of censorship. Hernandez has made it a habit to interact with readers regularly via social media outlets, such as @carloseats onTwitter, which can be updated at any time of the day, offering up the latest information as the food sections of traditional print newspapers and magazines quickly whittle away.

"People still want to seek the best places to eat for the best value,'' says Hernandez. "The blog isn't limited to Tampa Bay and is meant to give readers a look into what I'm eating and what my contributors are eating, as well.''

As Hernandez enters the next stage in his life -- studying abroad in South Korea -- he is sure to bring Carlos Eats to all of the places he interacts with. Right now, it's Seoul, with a side project: Carlos Abroad.

"While I study abroad, the blog will maintain its food event coverage in Tampa through my contributors,'' he says. "I'm excited to cover a city with over 10 million residents and hundreds of restaurants. There are still so many things to come from this young blog.''

Vertical Tampa Bay

Year started: 2009

Described as: "A love letter celebrating the treasures of Tampa Bay in a way that hasn't been done before -- very bold, colorful, edgy and fresh.''

Publisher and Creative Director Leslie Ickowitz worked for five years as an editor for local magazines before realizing she was standing in the way of what she was truly meant to do: Manage her own publication.

After dreaming up the entire concept for Vertical Tampa Bay in one night, the first issue launched six months to the day later, on Sept. 9th, 2009, delivering a new virtual fashion and lifestyle magazine to the inbox of Tampa Bay residents. In the midst of economic chaos, Ickowitz had one goal in mind: To play a role in uplifting people while uplifting the community.

"Our tone is very celebratory, romantic, approachable and informative -- but without being harsh,'' she says. "Vertical is as a vacation: If you curl up with it on your couch with a glass of wine or somebody you love, you can kind of get lost in its pages. We have plenty of treasures right here in Tampa.''

Taking pride in her work and her publication, Ickowitz looked at Vertical as a chance to offer up marketing opportunities for companies when the economy was too terrifying to do so. Without the overhead of a print publication, Vertical is able to offer advertising in an inexpensive, yet very powerful manner as all of the advertised ads link back to company websites -- something print can't do.

"Nobody buys a display ad in Vertical and that's it,'' says Ickowitz. "I kind of become their unofficial publicist, talking to everybody under the sun about who I'm working with and do social media on their behalf. I really try to find ways to exercise the relationship so people can benefit from one another, which is kind of unheard of in the publishing business.''

Within the coming months, Ickowitz plans to take the next step with Vertical in the form of a blog. Soon, readers will be given the opportunity to communicate with the publication regularly.

"We'll all be getting Vertical much more often'' she says. "I have so many ideas and I'm watching many of them come into fruition.''

On Twitter: @verticaltampa.

Tampa Do-Gooder

Year started: 2009

Described as: "A blog for the civically engaged.''

What started out as a personal writing project for Dawn Morgan, a freelance writer and avid community volunteer, quickly blossomed into something else: A regularly visited blog on general "do-gooderism'' with a focus on Morgan's take on civic engagements and the best of the best within the Tampa Bay community.

"I started the blog because, at the time, I was a freelancer, but there weren't very many jobs available,'' says Morgan. "In 2009, I hadn't freelanced in about a year and was really itching to get back into it. Instead of taking all of the low-paying jobs everyone was offering, I figured I would write for myself for free, sharing topics I wanted to write about.''

A woman with a goal, Morgan kept up her first person blogs in hopes of snagging a writing gig at the St. Pete Times. Six months after launching, her dream became a reality; among her blog writing, Morgan currently freelances for both the St. Pete Times and Creative Loafing.

"I guess that was probably my main goal,'' says Morgan. "To expand my freelance opportunities while sharing information with the community.''

With no distinct plans for Tampa Do-Gooders future in mind, Morgan plans to continue with the blog, offering up something traditional media doesn't: A first person perspective that doesn't always make it into her other print work.

You can also follow her on Twitter.

Dive In Tampa Bay

Year started: 2010

Described as: "The essential entertainment resource for Tampa's 'twentysomethings.' It's just like having a friend who seems to know everything awesome right before it happens.''

After three years of waiting around for the perfect writing job to come about, freelance writer and University of Tampa (UT) graduate Raubi Perilli decided to take matters into her own hands. Realizing the Internet was an easy tool to take advantage of, Perilli saw how simple it was to create her own publication and, soon, Dive In Tampa Bay was born.

"I could write on my own in a matter of minutes with practically no start-up costs,'' she says. "I'd always wanted to start a website, but never had an idea I felt was worth sending out to the world until one day it came to me: I should write about what I know. What do I know? I know what it's like to be a 'twentysomething' in Tampa, new to the city and looking for something to do.''

Making her website the guide Perilli wished she'd had when she first moved to the Tampa Bay region, Dive In alerts readers of local deals or events within minutes of becoming public information, creating lasting relationships between locally owned businesses and consumers.

"We really want to encourage our readers to shop, buy and eat local,'' says Perilli. "Sometimes, people new to a city are intimidated to try something new -- something they've never heard of -- but our goal at Dive In is to break that wall and encourage people to step out of the box.''

Currently, Perilli is working toward bringing on a team of student writers from UT, making Dive In the ultimate media outlet for its demographic. With more and more 'twentysomethings' moving into the Tampa Bay region, Perilli and her publication aim to fill any entertainment voids.

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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