Detroit. If you are like most Americans, you haz a sad about Detroit. You ponder Detroit and you think of the hard times that have befallen the auto industry, and how the grinding economic downturn falls so heavily on a community that was already a blighted hellscape of Devil's Night fires, and incompetent professional football franchises. You reflect on the way the city's seminal garage rockers are always punching each other in the face, and how even the white people have got to rap-battle their way to middle-class respectability. And if you are like most Americans, you probably think Detroit is the capital of Michigan. It's not. That's Lansing.
But even as the economic downturn intensifies in Detroit, and Michigan at large, is the coverage of Detroit's downturn matching it, or is it growing more shallow? In a must-read piece for Vice Magazine, Thomas Morton ably argues the latter:
The problem is it's reached the point where the potential for popularity or "stickiness" or whatever you're supposed to call it now is driving the coverage more than any sort of newsworthiness of the subject. There's a total gold-rush mentality about the D right now, and all the excitement has led to some real lapses in basic journalistic ethics and judgment. Like the French filmmaker who came to Detroit to shoot a documentary about all the deer and pheasants and other wildlife that have been returning to the city. After several days without seeing a wild one he had to be talked out of renting a trained fox to run through the streets for the camera. Or the Dutch crew who decided to go explore the old project tower where Smokey Robinson grew up and promptly got jacked for their thousands of dollars' worth of equipment.
The flip side is a simultaneous influx of reporters who don't want anything to do with the city but feel compelled by the times to get a Detroit story under their belts, like it's the journalistic version of cutting a grunge record.
And, in Morton's opinion, if Detroit has any single sector that's booming, it's playing host as the epicenter for a nation of journalists-turned-poverty tourists. Morton talks with James Griffoen, who is said to be a frequently sought out urban "sherpa" for journalists looking for a quick dose of "ruin porn." According to Griffoen, the typical visiting newsperson never lets the facts get in the way of a good story:
The city's second-most-overused blight shot is of the mile-long ruins of the Packard Auto Plant in East Detroit.
"This is the visiting reporters' favorite thing to see," [Griffoen] said. "The people all come here to shoot the story of the auto industry and they love this shot because they can be like, 'See that? That's where they made the cars,' and then forget to add the footnote that the plant's been closed since 1956."
In the past month alone, the plant's been used by the New York Times, the British Daily Mirror, and the Polish Auto Motor as a visual for stories it has no concrete connection to other than occupying the same city. The Packard also shows up twice in the same Time photo spread from December, although the second picture is just captioned with the street address to make it look like their photographer visited more than three sites.
The whole piece is abundant in its descriptions of shallow journos carefully ignoring any of the city's successes and photographers who learn how to crop their images just so, to maximize the depiction of dereliction.
Luckily, the locals are getting it right:
For all the lazy shit the outside media has been pulling with Detroit, reporters in the city have actually been getting shit done. The Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer last year for digging up over 10,000 text messages that led to the former mayor's resignation and arrest. [Detroit News' Charlie] LeDuff has been harassing Councilwoman Conyers in the News to great effect while keeping a close eye on the "eccentric vagrant" beat. Having your hometown overrun by a bunch of smug assholes with their reductive analogies and clever little pat phrases while the paper you work for can't afford to keep the lights on would be enough to send most folks groveling back to New York.
SOMETHING, SOMETHING, SOMETHING, DETROIT [Vice]