We’ve all seen them.
Photo essays of some of Detroit’s “best” shit holes in America’s most well known and respected news publications: the ruins of the vacant Packard Auto Plant and Michigan Central Station, the rotting skeletons of abandoned homes that were long ago burnt to the ground, the urban prairies–”wildlife” that’s slowly taking back the city and urban farming.
These are supposed to be the representation of what Detroit is like.
As Vice Magazine’s Thomas Morton so wisely noted earlier this summer in his article “Something, something, something Detroit: Lazy journalists love pictures of abandoned stuff”, because depicting a city that appears to be decaying from the inside out, from the local government to the face of the rubbled landscape, that get all the hits on news websites, these sensationalistic stories therefore prioritize those that have actual newsworthiness.
“There’s a total gold-rush mentality about the D right now,” Morton writes. “And all the excitement has led to some real lapses in basic journalistic ethics and judgment.”
To create some relevance here, what got me all fired up about this subject was my discovery of a TIME article called “Detroit: The Death — and Possible Life — of a Great City” earlier this afternoon.
“So, is this your thing now TIME?” I thought to myself, half kidding, as I scrolled past a photo captioned ‘abandoned homes in Detroit.’ “Write that same old Detroit stereotypes story every couple of months?” My jaw dropped when I realized that this was EXACTLY what the magazine is doing.
Without commentary from any locals, historical experts or city leaders, and using exclusively demographic information that appear to be lifted from a Wikipedialike source, TIME writer Daniel Okrent blogs from the first person perspective, as though he were an expert on the historical timeline and current state of the city. But, he’s certainly no expert.
While he claims to be a “Detroit native”, Okrent moved out of the city for an education at The University of Michigan and from there moved out of state the first chance he got, in the 70s– it’s pretty safe to say that he didn’t experience the ups and downs of living in Detroit duringthe last 40 years. His recent return to Detroit to pose the hypothetical question “Could we regenerate a city, and regain a sense of who we are as Americans?” is like a slap in the face to the people who actually live here.
He’s not actually writing from the perspective of a true native. He’s focused on fulfilling his own agenda, keeping people across the country comfortable through maintaining their ideas of what Detroit is like. While his voice is that of a martyr, he’s not actually doing anything to help rebuild the city. There’s no suggested plan of action to clean up or rebuild the city– there’s not even any words of encouragement. He just wants to retell the same story that’s been told a thousand times before.
What continues to frustrate me is that there’s not even a place on TIME’s website for me to comment on why this is unfair and unethical journalism.
In an AutoMK article called “TIME comes back to Detroit”, it’s reported that there’s a whole team of TIME reporters and photographers actually stationed within the city. Because it’s en vogue, TIME Magazine decided to buy a house in an old-money neighborhood to serve as their Detroit Bureau during this “Assignment Detroit Project” for the next year. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time TIME has had employees in Michigan and for similar reasons.
“Until about ten years ago, they had a whole editorial and advertising team in the cushy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. Then, a decade ago, they left, tail between their legs, afraid of sinking auto advertising revenues and lonely for their even-more-cushy Manhattan high-rise,” the article reads.
It continues: Rampant gang and crime that was prevalent through the 80s and 90s has dramatically decreased, the murder rate has dropped below the average of most major U.S. cities and there has been a rebirth in business entertainment.
“However, for someone just coming back to the city, it’s hard to see the improvement, so, like TIME Magazine, it’s much easier to apply a story line to a situation rather than put things into context,” it reads.
TIME is in The Motor City “because Detroit affects all of us”, they claim, while all the while The Detroit Free Press has been doing a stand up job with it’s coverage in the last couple of years. What this TIME in Detroit business is really about roots back to the fact that the national media loves to dump on this city from the safe sidelines. It’s like they’re fascinated with the city collapsing in on itself, but don’t want it to actually involve them.