Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Something Something Detroit

I’m wary of sweeping trend pieces like the one in the New York Times a few weeks ago that described Bushwick in Brooklyn as having a “bohemian vibe” and tout that it’s at the heart of some sort of artistic revolution. A co-op or two does not a revolution make, and sure there may by a group of young white people making art and sharing stuff in part of Bushwick, but the last thing I got from the Bushwick in the past two years that I visited the neighborhood frequently was a “bohemian vibe.”

And that’s the problem with any urban area – there’s no one story. Detroit is the easiest example, and has been used as such exhaustively over the past couple of years. As Vice pointed out in it’s 2009 story called "Something, something, something, Detroit: Lazy journalists love pictures of abandoned stuff," Detroit’s decay became shorthand for all that is going wrong in American during the recession and abandoned buildings are as beautiful to photographers as sunsets (hell I love photographing abandoned buildings too). Of course there’s a lot of crime, tons of poverty, and LOTS of abandoned houses. But it’s not the whole story of Detroit and also far from one that should be used to illustrate the economic collapse of 2008-present day. News by definition should be NEW and there have been abandoned buildings in Detroit for decades.

And then there’s the other story of Detroit, one of its “creative renaissance” and this video is so interesting and encouraging, and such great PR for the city that needs it so badly. I’m glad they spoke to people who live there rather than just about them, but still why does Detroit need effing Johnny Knoxville to come in and tell the world about it? Yes there’s stuff happening in Detroit, but just like Bushwick, I don’t know that it can really be labeled as sort of trend in the same way that it’s not accurate to label the whole area as abandoned and hopeless. Both, as a woman in the video calls it, are “pick and choose journalism.”

Of course perpetuating a narrative of an artist utopia isn’t nearly as harmful as perpetuating one of hopeless blight, but my point is that neither is accurate, and that an urban area is complex and can’t be boiled down to a trend piece as simple as “Hippies now in Bushwick” or “Stuff is abandoned in Detroit.” To do so is just lazy journalism.

Complex reporting isn’t short and easy to digest, nor is it cheap and fast to produce, and no one benefits from some New Yorker dropping by a few abandoned buildings or hipster bars and proclaiming what a city he spent 12 hours in is all about. The last thing Detroit or needs is another journalist who is looking to make it a metaphor or someone like me who left for greener pastures dropping back in for a quick byline and then ducking back to an overpriced neighborhood on the East Coast to education everyone on what’s happening in the flyover states.

Those most qualified to tell the world the real story are the journalists who stayed –some of the reporting at publications like Metro Times Detroit and The Detroit Free Press is among the best I’ve seen. Let’s give them national attention rather than treating the city like an easy trend piece.

1 comment:

vegan27 said...

The most annoying thing about the Detroit coverage is the way most of the news stories are about people from the suburbs or the coasts who moved into the city and are now hailed as saviors. The lifelong residents of the city who kept the pilot light on all these years don't get the same recognition. I welcome new residents who want to help, but the media isn't totally giving credit where it is really due.