Web Site's Funny Texts Lead to App, TV Show

Stephanie Goldberg

When some people find out that Lauren Leto quit law school at Wayne State University after her first year to focus on her Web site, they lecture her about responsibility and planning for her future.

And then they find out that little Web site of hers averages about 4.5 million hits a day.

Leto, along with her college friend Ben Bator, who also passed on law school to concentrate on the business, launched TextsFromLastNight.com in February 2009.

The site, which features funny and often shocking text messages submitted from area codes worldwide, has spun off into multiplatform ventures including personalized T-shirts, a book, an iPhone app and talk of a Fox sitcom to be produced by Adam Sandler's production company, Happy Madison.

Some of the more popular Texts From Last Night include, "I was just told by a cop that my party was the most epic party they ever crashed," "This is a mass text. Does anyone know where I am?" and "Rather than putting your name in guys phones, you just texted 90999 to donate $10 to Haiti and then gave it back to them."

But Leto says that even after a development deal and an app that's been downloaded by more than 300,000 people in 230 countries and territories, her parents can't help but worry about their daughter.

"They're nervous that one day I'm going to wake up and no one will want to look at my Web site anymore," she said with a laugh.

Another site that has succeeded by making strangers' stories available to the public is FML, which launched in French in 2008 and became accessible to English speakers in January 2009.

FML, otherwise known as FMyLife.com, is composed of the funny, self-deprecating tales. For example, on March 8, user what434 wrote, "Today, I learned that you don't put your diamond earrings on over your bathroom sink. FML."

"It gives people an outlet to post whatever screwed up their day," said Alan Holding, community manager at FML. "We're just trying to provide a fun Web site where people can share their funny secrets."
The site receives about 5,000 submissions and averages 3 million hits a day.

Like their counterparts at FML, Bator and Leto had no idea what they were in store for when they started Texts From Last Night as a blog to keep in touch with friends after graduating from Michigan State University in 2008.

But it wasn't until the book contract came along, almost one year after the site launched, that Leto realized the potential of Texts From Last Night.

"After the book deal, we knew it was OK to deplete our savings and put money into the site," Bator said. "It's really fun the way we've been able to cross mediums like this. ... [How] late-night exploits can be inspiration for a book and a TV series to be enjoyed by millions."

With about 15,000 text messages submitted to the site every day, Leto, Bator and his brother Philip -- a senior at Michigan State who helps weed through the submissions -- keep busy.

"Everyone texts," Bator said. "They'll send a text before they'll call. [Cell phones] are like little confessionals you bring out with you at night, and we get to read everyone's diary."

Leto said her friends still message her when they see a 313 (Detroit, Michigan, metro) area code pop up on the site.

"They'll say, 'Oh, my God, that was totally you,' " she said. It's not.

"It gets annoying getting texts from people hoping I'll put them up on the site. ... They think I can't tell. Like, why are you writing me about vomiting in your hair?" she laughed. "I hate text messaging now."

Check out Panasonic’s Full HD 3D home theatre system and new product line next week from Monday to Wednesday at the Detroit Opera House.

Panasonic has begun a nationwide tour to bring the experience of Full HD 3D TV home entertainment directly to consumers in 15 major markets. The tour will have 3 caravans simultaneously traveling on the East and West Coasts and Central U.S., beginning in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

What will be available at the event:

·         Enter to win a Panasonic Full HD 3D Home Theater System; one winner will be selected from all visitors who enter during the three-day period

·         Learn tips and techniques from photography experts from the Digital Photo Academy on Panasonic’s newest line of LUMIX cutting-edge digital still cameras and camcorders

·         Try out Panasonic’s newest consumer electronics products, including gaming in Full HD 3D

·         See demos of Skype, DirecTV 3D content, and more

·         Learn more about Panasonic’s commitment to developing eco-conscious  technology

·         Interview Panasonic executives


·         Monday, March 22, 2010 – 11:00AM-6:00PM

·         Tuesday, March 23, 2010 – 11:00AM-6:00PM

·         Wednesday, March 24, 2010 – 11:00AM-4:00PM


Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway

Detroit, MI 48226
Experience the wonder and magic under the “Big Top” of the Shrine Circus from March 18 – 21, 2010 at their brand new location, the Hazel Park Raceway.

The 102nd Shrine Circus will feature dazzling and breathtaking performances by acclaimed international acts that promises to be more marvelous, more astonishing than ever before.

Join us under the big top for an action-packed experience, featuring mischievous elephants, prancing horses, flame-throwing gaucho dancers and the high-flying, death-defying Sun Chinese acrobats.

Show times are as follows:

Thursday, March 18, Friday, March 19 & Saturday, March 20:

10:00 am, 4:00 pm, 7:00 pm

Sunday, March 21: 1:00 pm, 5:30 pm

“We are proud to be able to continue the tradition of the Shrine Circus in Metro Detroit, the home of the first Shrine Circus in the world,” said Chuck Baer, Shrine Circus Director. “The Big Top tent will offer a more intimate experience and give children and adults alike, an up-close and personal access to the acts that they’ve never had before.”  

Children of all ages are welcome to marvel at the magnificent big top performances, and lose themselves in the whimsical sideline entertainment that includes cheery clowns, exotic elephant rides, face painting and moon bouncing.  Concessions are available throughout the performance.

The new location at Hazel Park Raceway will include fenced, secured and lighted parking, a huge petting zoo, carnival attractions, and of course, the big show. Tents will be heated, handicap accessible and have first class amenities. The Detroit Shrine Circus dates back to 1908 when it was held at the Light Guard Armory, located at Larned and Lafayette in downtown Detroit.

Tickets are on sale now at www.detroitshrinecircus.com. Prices range from $15 - $30 when purchased online and the box office.

Discounted tickets are available at select local retailers, including Hungry Howie’s.

For more information please visit www.detroitshrinecircus.com. Hazel Park Raceway is located on the corner of 10 Mile Road and Dequindre and accessible from area freeways.

Associated Press

Saab Spyker Automobiles NV may announce that it is locating its U.S. headquarters in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak.

Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, tells The Associated Press that a tax incentive for Saab is on the agenda for the Michigan Economic Growth Authority's Tuesday meeting.

Mullan said he could neither confirm nor deny that Saab has chosen Royal Oak as the site of its North American headquarters. But Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison told WJBK-TV that he expected Gov. Jennifer Granholm to make the announcement at a Tuesday news conference.

General Motors Co. in January sold Saab to Dutch carmaker Spyker Cars NV in a $74 million deal.

Daniel Duggan
Crain's Detroit

After four years of preparation, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau has secured a conference that it expects to generate close to $3 billion in economic impact over five years.

Dubbed by insiders the “Super Bowl of all conferences,” the 5,000-person American Society of Association Executives event will draw roughly 3,500 people in leadership roles of associations — people empowered to decide where their own conferences will be held.

“Any businessperson can imagine the idea of having all of their best clients or prospects in one place at one time,” said Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the visitors bureau.

Detroit won the 2015 conference of the Washington, D.C.-based ASAE, held for the leaders of trade groups and associations from around the country.

Though the conference is still five years away, Alexander said planning has already started. And while this event won't have the same level of media attention as the Super Bowl or the Final Four, Alexander said the hospitality industry is planning the same level of attention.

“We'll be naming a host committee, we'll be figuring out how many volunteers we need, decorations at the airport,” Alexander said. “And we're working on specific strategy for how to use this as a way to market the entire region.”

Alexander said the visitors bureau went after the ASAE conference three years ago and lost.

Since then, he and the entire staff have made securing the conference a priority. The visitors bureau has become very involved with the group, sponsoring other events and programs; Alexander even took a spot on its board of directors.

Leading up to the city's pitch for the conference, Detroit-based public relations firm Starrconstand prepared a bid packet, which included a DVD player that played a four-minute movie about Detroit starring Kid Rock.

For the 20-minute pitch in Washington, D.C., Waterford Township-based staging company Corporate Optics was hired to arrange and control three televisions, each showing different images while Edsel Ford II and Alexander spoke to the selecting panel.

Part of the pitch is the host city's vision for the three parties held at an ASAE convention: opening ceremonies, the food-and-wine party and the closing ceremony.

Detroit pitched an opening ceremony on Belle Isle with fireworks and a laser light show; a “culinary throw down” at The Henry Ford and a “concert of wild proportions” at the Fox Theatre to end the event.

The presentation was one of the best given to the board for the current round of bidding, said John Graham, president of the ASAE.

“I've seen some good presentations in the past, and that ranks up there as one of them,” he said.

Graham served on the board of the American Diabetes Association with Ford, so having him as part of the pitch was a nice touch, Graham said, “and Larry knew that I'd think it was a nice touch.”

Though Graham added that the presentation is the icing — the city's hotels, facilities and venues are the cake.

“You can have a great presentation, but you have to have a package to offer,” he said. “The city deserves a lot of credit for developing into a destination that will be attractive to a lot of meetings.”

Will the event really be worth it? Not even a question, Alexander said.

According to the ASAE, 20 percent to 25 percent of the executives who attend a conference will book an event in that city within five years.

For an average year with an attendance of 5,000 people, Alexander said 3,500 attendees represent conventions. So, based on the ASAE's analysis, Detroit could expect 700 to 875 conventions in five years.

Alexander said direct spending on a convention in Detroit can range from $2 million to $25 million on the high end.

Considering an average of $3.5 million per event, for 800 new conventions, the region would get $2.8 billion in direct spending.

Nashville earned new conferences after hosting the event in 1998 and 2005, said Butch Spyridon, Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, though the exact number wasn't available.

He said that while the event is time-consuming and expensive, it has a tremendous return on investment. The city has been selected for 2014.

“There is a certain segment of the (meeting and convention) market that has a comfort level about where they will go,” he said. “When you can get clients out of that comfort area, you can demonstrate what you can do in your city.

“We've found that when we can get the client base into our city, the closing rate increases dramatically.”

For Detroit, the meeting will be a chance to show off the facilities, hotels and the region, said Tim McCarthy, visitors bureau chairman.

“We'll be showing off the city,” said McCarthy, also president and COO of Detroit-based Checker Cab. “But we'll have a great plan put together to encourage those in attendance to bring their business back to the region.”

The Gov Monitor

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today announced that seven projects supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) have been recognized in the fifth annual Trade & Industry Development magazine economic development awards competition.

These are seven of the key projects that propelled Michigan to third place in Site Selection magazine’s annual Governor’s Cup competition for major new corporate investments in 2009 announced last week.

“For the second week in a row, our economic development efforts have been recognized by a global site selection publication,” Granholm said.  “We will continue going anywhere and doing anything to further diversify the state’s economy and create new jobs in Michigan.”

The CiCi Awards competition recognizes the top 30 projects in North America for 2009 in two categories: Corporate Investment and Community Impact, honoring the company investing in the community as well as the economic developers who played a role in securing those investments.

In the Corporate Investment category, Michigan led the field with six awards out of a possible 15, four of them in the clean energy sector.

The projects recognized were:

Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Energy anchoring what will be the nation’s largest renewable energy center on the site of the former Ford Motor Wixom assembly plant.

Advanced-battery development and manufacturing firms A123 Systems (Livonia) and Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions (Holland), and solar manufacturer Suniva (Thomas Township, Saginaw).

Nexteer Automotive, the former steering division of Delphi Corporation, now focused on development of advanced steering and driveline systems technology.

Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online lender, undertaking a $240 million expansion and headquarters relocation to Detroit.

The Community Impact award honored MEDC’s success in winning the new General Electric advanced technology and training center in Van Buren Township (western Wayne County) which will become GE’s largest single-site IT operation.  It is based in large part on Michigan’s roster of engineering and technology professionals.

“These awards pay tribute to the economic development talent and professionalism available in communities around the state,” MEDC President and CEO Greg Main said.  “Perfecting these deals requires the highest degree of collaboration and cooperation in generating new investment from inside and outside of the state.  Our local partners are a major reason Michigan is a leader in attracting and nurturing growing companies, based on our aggressive initiatives, strong business climate and hard-working and talented workforce.”

Describing itself as the only vertical market publication dedicated to site selection, Trade & Industry Development has a circulation of 25,000.

David Murray

Road trips demand a rare breed.

For many the road trip consists of nothing more than the mundane transportation from point A to B. Stopping along the way to gather the useless trinkets or pecan roll.  The highwayman’s last export.

This trip was different. There would be no relaxing pleasure cruise. No poetic moments of insight while gazing  through the pastoral scenery. Instead this would be nothing more than a mad dash through the gritty turnpike of America. All the way pushing the limits of personal endurance and technological limitations.  This would be a true adventure.

My companions consisted of a short Pilipino, a Ryan Seacrest look alike, and the girl. Good people. We all would embrace the madness.

Our trip started in earnest on Monday morning, March 8th. Together we would set out to prove that Detroit still meant something. That there was talent and drive not ready to turn over and die. This would make our home town proud, and a long the way we would indulge ourselves in the energy that would ensue. Living the true Detroit experience.

The vehicle chosen for our travels, was the Chevy Traverse. A beast of a machine full of buttons, dials, and gadgets that no human should ever have access to. We had already packed enough technology with us to maintain our attention level at a relatively safe point. Any additional distractions would surely take us over the edge. Regardless we pressed on.

Stopping at some local haunts, it became immediately apparent that this project was much bigger than ourselves.

Most people were willing to extend their hand and help in any activity that was required of us. Only in a few instances were we asked to not enter. This helpful attitude was shared throughout our trip. Many would stare in wonder, but always with a small smile of curiosity. One could sense that people, regardless of race, gender, or geographic locations, where ready for some levity after the heavy steel blanket they had been wearing for the past few years.

We wouldn’t be alone on this trip. Seven other groups of individuals were also on the same mission. Along the way communications and activities would be shared online. The general attitude of the other teams was that we had set the bar high right out of the gate. It would then become their mission to take us down. The target was painted, and we knew we were in the firing line. Nothing to do now, but push “Hustle Dragon” to the edge.

This was my 1st experience having wifi in an automobile, and like the distant relative you loathe to visit. It wasn’t always functioning. At times it ceased to exist. Even our back up devices would fail to deliver.

Regardless of these setbacks, our troupe pushed on.

Endless hours of video editing, posting content, and car sickness would not bring us to our knees. But the true source of energy for our trip, was the community back home. You could feel their excitement as we inched closer to the finish line. The support was amazing, and it was the deciding factor of our victory.

Finally, we made it to our destination.

With a large sigh of relief we all took a moment to silently congratulate ourselves for a job well done. We had dodged all the bullets, beat all the odds, ignored the doubters and the swine, represented our home town, and made it in time for the next party. There would be little time to rest. Duty would call to represent Detroit once more.

It was time for South by Southwest.

*Important Note*

Team Detroit  is the official winners the first Chevy SXSW Road Trip Challenge!  Congrats!

Trailer 'Grown in Detroit' from Mascha Poppenk on Vimeo.

Dutch filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk have captured the interests of educators, community organizers and social activists around the world. Their recent documentary Grown in Detroit shines light on an incredible effort that is currently taking place in a city often discredited as one of decay and despair. For this, they received the Community Empowerment Film Award from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Reverend Jesse Jackson presented the award to Mascha Poppenk during the annual NCRC conference on Friday, March 12 in Washington D.C.

"We are honored that Grown in Detroit received this prestigious award from the Coalition," said Mascha Poppenk, filmmaker. "It’s a powerful, uplifting story about the rebirth of the city told by the actions of teens and their educators. The message they teach us applies to the world, not just the residents of Detroit. The award is for the people of Detroit, CFA in particular. It’s their story, we were privileged to capture it."

Grown in Detroit features urban organic farming efforts organized by the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public school of 300, mainly African American, pregnant and parenting teenagers. In Detroit alone, there are more than 3,000 pregnant teenagers who drop out of high school each year, nationwide more than 500,000.

The passionate educators at the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit are working to make a better future for the young women by using their natural resources. The school is one of only three like it in the United States. As part of the curriculum, pregnant teens are taught agricultural skills at the farm next to the school. The young mothers, often still children themselves, learn through organic farming to become more independent and knowledgeable about the importance of nutritious foods. Many of the teens initially dislike farm work but the aversion disappears as they see their crops growing and being sold for profit.

While Detroit may have a reputation as one of the most impoverished and dangerous cities in the U.S., this award winning documentary exposes a different side; the side about residents who are emerging by using their resource and creating unique solutions.

Ironically, after the destruction of many abandoned homes, nature has taken over and the city. Detroit is literally greening from within. Satellite images speak for themselves; more than one third of the city has become green again, just as it was before the industrial era. This new landscape is creating opportunities and hope for the city and its residents. Land that was used for farming a century ago has again been cultivated, this time by the urban farmer, out of necessity and resourcefulness.

This “back to the roots” concept is a simple, yet effective solution for a city that has to start all over again and perhaps a lesson to be learned for the rest of the world.
Katherine Yung
Gannett News Service

Decades after Motown Records put Detroit on the world's entertainment map, a little-noticed tax break could help usher in a new era of music-making in Michigan.

The state is offering tax credits of up to 42 percent for the production of music CDs and videos. The credits were designed to lure big-name artists to record in Michigan, which already is home to chart-topping performers such as Eminem, Kid Rock and Bob Seger.

The incentive is tucked away in the package of tax breaks for the movie industry. But Michigan officials have not promoted it because they have put all of their efforts into growing the state's film business.

As a result, even though the tax credit has been available since April 2008, no one has taken advantage of it, which may change as more people learn about the incentive.

"If we could market that with the labels, do you know how much business we could bring to Detroit?" asked Brian Pastoria, a partner at Harmonie Park Studios, a Detroit recording studio. "It would be an incredible thing."

Like many others, Pastoria didn't know about the tax break. When Pastoria heard about Michigan's tax breaks for recording artists, he was so excited that he quickly told his contacts at major recording labels.

"They had no idea," he said. Were they interested in the incentives? "Very much so," he said.

"This makes all the sense in the world," said Pastoria, who has worked with a number of prominent artists, including Aretha Franklin, Eminem and the Velvet Hearts. "I think it could start something. This is huge."

He's working on bringing production of a new tribute album for British music legend Frankie Miller to his studio, and the tax credits would definitely help. Making the album could easily cost $1 million because it would involve more than a dozen top performers.

To be sure, Michigan's music incentives won't help everyone. They can be claimed by only those who spend at least $50,000 in the state. Big-name artists backed by major record labels usually sink much more than $50,000 into an album. But other performers won't be able to meet the requirement.

"They are going to exclude a lot of independents," said Al Sutton, who records and mixes Kid Rock's albums and owns Rust Belt Studios in Royal Oak.

Sutton noted that if the requirement were lowered to $20,000, he could lure several out-of-state bands to record at his studio.

Ken Droz, a spokesman for the Michigan Film Office, which administers the incentives, said that artists with small budgets don't need the tax breaks. For major performers, spending $50,000 "is a song," he added.

Companies that meet the re-quirement can get up to a 42 percent tax break, the same percentage that's offered to movie and TV production companies. The law defines a sound recording as "a recording of music, poetry or spoken-word performance." It must be in a digital media format, such as a CD.

Just like with movies, companies must apply for the tax breaks in advance, and it usually takes a year before the money is paid. Anyone building a recording studio in Michigan also can qualify for the tax credit, Droz said.

While the Michigan Film Office has not marketed the tax breaks and has no plans to do so, that isn't stopping a few companies from exploring the incentive's potential benefits.

Dickinson Wright, a Detroit-based law firm, has a Nashville, Tenn., office that's looking at the tax breaks for some of its clients in that music industry hub, said Steven Enwright, one of its entertainment attorneys.

Unity Studios, which has begun building three sound stages in Allen Park, plans to operate at least one room for recording music at its facility, said Eric Cedo, the company's director of marketing.

"The music industry and film industry go hand in hand," he said. "We really need to get back to what Motown did."

Michigan isn't the only state offering tax breaks for recording artists.

In 2007, Louisiana increased its tax credit for sound recordings from 15 percent to 25 percent. Last year, it made the tax credit refundable, which means companies can get checks from the state, not just credits against their tax liabilities. The minimum spending requirement in Louisiana is only $15,000.

So far, several jazz and blues albums and movie scores have been recorded in Louisiana, as well as the Dave Matthews Band's most recent album, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King."

The tax credits are "just starting to get noticed," said Sherri McConnell, executive director of Louisiana's Office of Entertainment Industry Development.

In today's multimedia world, an album is often just one marketing tool for a band, so Louisiana offers several entertainment tax credits. For example, New Orleans' Imagination Movers, a hit band for children, has a Disney Channel series, albums and concert tour.

Each of these productions can qualify for tax breaks if they are filmed, recorded or performed in Louisiana.

Michigan also offers several entertainment incentives, but so far has marketed only the ones for movies. But a new company, Fantasm 3D, hopes to be among the first to take advantage of the state's tax credit for making music videos. It's preparing to film a 3-D music video for an artist from Michigan whose name it would not reveal.

"The incentive will open the door to the idea of coming here to shoot," said Ralph Watson, Fantasm's CEO and a former performer and record producer. "There's a lot of talent here, undiscovered talent."

Additional Facts

More than movies
Films and TV shows aren't the only creative productions eligible for Michigan's 42 percent refundable tax breaks.

What else qualifies for the incentives: Documentaries, music videos, interactive games, video games, movie trailers, Internet programming, Internet videos, sound recordings, videos, digital animation and interactive Web sites.

What doesn't qualify: Radio programs, weather shows, financial market reports, talk shows, game shows and awards shows.
Detroit Free Press

Free Press columnist Mitch Albom has sold more than 28 million books worldwide.

At times, it might seem as if he has won as many writing awards during his quarter-century with the Free Press. For instance, 13 times he has won the country’s most prestigious sports column-writing contest; only one other columnist has won it more than once.

This weekend, Albom was selected for the biggest prize of his journalism career: the Red Smith Award.

The award is bestowed annually for lifetime achievement by the Associated Press Sports Editors. It was started by the country’s sports editors in 1981 when it was presented to its namesake, the legendary New York columnist. In the ensuing years, it has been awarded to a who’s who of the most influential sportswriters and editors, including Jim Murray, Jimmy Cannon, Shirley Povich, Edwin Pope and Dick Schaap.

The voters are past APSE presidents and Red Smith winners, charged with identifying people who have made “major contributions to sports journalism.”

“Mitch’s work and career speak for themselves — he’s given much to Detroit, he’s a wonderful writer, he’s multi-talented, he’s earned his success and recognition,” said Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Free Press. “And this award recognizes Mitch as among the greatest sports columnists ever.”

Anger, APSE’s president in 1994-95, spent 18 years as sports editor of the Miami Herald and saw the early days of Albom’s column-writing career in the early ’80s at the Herald’s rival, the Ft. Lauderdale News and Sun Sentinel.

Albom joined the Free Press in 1985. And the rest, as the awards prove, is remarkable history.

He will receive the Red Smith Award at the APSE’s June convention in Salt Lake City.