Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 26, 2013

Newsmakers: Pure Mich. story involving Iowa work sparked petition


— EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.

TRAVERSE CITY — The editorial staff that puts together the Pure Michigan Travel Guide with its gorgeous lay-outs of the state’s natural gems works in ... Iowa.

That story broke in the Record-Eagle in mid-July and swept across the state, even landing national coverage in the Huffington Post. It also inspired a petition by gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer that asked Gov. Rick Snyder why he “wasted $1.5 million to produce a Pure Michigan travel guide in Iowa.”

Schauer said he reaped about 2,000 signatures from his effort.

“It gave people an opportunity to add their voice, and I think it demonstrated their concern and support,” he said.

A Michigan Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman said the $1.6 million contract was awarded to media conglomerate Meredith Corporation mostly because it could best reach folks across the country. Meredith proposed to bag 650,000 of the Travel Guide together with its Midwest Living magazine, said MEDC Public Relations Manager Michelle Grinnell.

Schauer, who formerly served in Congress, said he took biggest issue with Grinnell’s discussion of quality. She told another media representative: “There’s a quality level our customers are used to.”

“When they talked ‘quality,’ those were fighting words for me,” he said. “Then they talked about price, and we learned that two Michigan businesses submitted lower bids. One was Hour magazine, which is an amazing magazine with a very high quality. That’s a slap in the face, an insult. The cruelest irony is they didn’t choose a Detroit-based business.”

Hour Media of Detroit bid $1.3 million and included a distribution plan that included bagging it with various national and city publications with a more affluent readership than Midwest Living. Pitch Black Media bid $257,300 for electronic editions only. Hour Media’s publisher, John Balardo, did not return phone calls for comment.

Grinnell said the bids were chosen for the best fit before they were opened for price. She also noted that Des Moines based Meredith, the contract winner for the past 15 years, has a larger Michigan presence with offices across the state and 282 employees, including some freelance writers and photographers. That compares to Hour Media with 50 full-time employees.

“While (Meredith) is headquartered in Iowa, they certainly have a strong Michigan presence in the state,” she said.

Grinnell said there’s been no formal meeting to discuss how a Michigan magazine could have at least editorial involvement.

“It’s something we’ll look into when we are ready to re-bid it,” she said.

Another Pure Michigan flare-up cropped up this year: a full-page Pure Michigan ad in the Wall Street Journal touted the state’s new right-to-work law. Critics said it poured salt into a not-so-pure wound, while others praised the ad for increasing national awareness of the law.

Snyder later said he wouldn’t have emphasized that single issue.