“Our Detroit Story” Recap on New Detroit site

New Detroit has posted several items from the Taking Charge of Our Story conference, including videos, images and press clippings.  Take a look and let us know what you think.

A familiar story from London

I’ve been working in London for the past week and I’ve been talking to friends here about Detroit and what happened at “Taking Charge of Our Story” a week ago. One friend started talking to me about Dagenham—an industrial town on the east side of London.

In 1924, Ford Motor Company (Anyone in Detroit ever heard of them?) plunked down £167,695 to buy 300 acres of marshland for a car manufacturing complex. The plants opened seven years later, producing Model A’s for the British market.  It employed as many as 8,000 people over the next seven decades and was one of the United Kingdom’s largest auto plant complexes, according to the BBC.

Ford Fiesta assembly operations ceased at Dagenham in 2002. Today, employment in Dagenham is half what it was at its peak. So Time magazine swooped down on east London a week ago, mentioned Dagenham’s dismal fortunes and overabundance of pawn shops and used the town as the poster child for Britain’s current political and economic malaise, adding (in case you missed it), “It’s a depressing tableau, one all too familiar: just like Detroit, this once vibrant center of auto manufacturing seems stuck in a spiral of persistent decline.”

I wrote a piece a week or so ago for Huffington Post in which I said that Detroit’s problems are not Detroit’s, they are America’s. I can see that I understated the connections I was trying to make. Detroit’s problems are the world’s—or at least the problems of the West’s developed industrial (now going post-industrial) countries. Apparently, it is beyond either American or British legislators to create industrial policies aimed at preserving communities and stemming the international flight of capital and jobs.

DetNews: Young Folk at Conference Show Promise for Future

The Detroit News printed an editorial today, summarizing overall thoughts about the conference.  While the article touches upon media’s responsibility to report realities, the paper also saw promise in the young leaders and entrepreneurs who were in the audience.

Telling My Story

As the event begins to wrap up, I’ve been thinking about my personal “take-a-away” from the day.

In December, I decided that my resolution for 2010 was to start a blog highlighting my personal insights about urban planning, racial reconciliation and Detroit’s future. The thought that I had both the ability and power to say something about these topics was both exhilarating and intimidating.

I’m originally from Indiana, but I grew up traveling I-94 to visit relatives in Detroit. I remember visiting Boblo Island and hearing my uncles talk about the latest Cadillac they purchased.  To me, Detroit was representative of big city living- nice cars, nice clothes and nice strong bars on store windows.

This is what today was all about.  Detroiters, those newly coined and seasoned,  must tell their stories.  The stories of opposition and resilience, of mistakes and lessons write my history essay for me learned and the stories about Detroit’s future and the people who are working to create it one story at a time.

Take the challenge and tell your story because as I learned today information is only defined as news if it is something people haven’t heard before.

As we all know, there are still many stories about Detroit that haven’t been told.

Balanced reporting?

Reverend Simmons, chair of the Brightmoor Pastoral Alliance, points out that media does have a responsibility to portray the “reality” of Detroit.  He said that city is about more than restaurants and the riverwalk, but also about crime.

However, one audience stated that “gatekeepers” prevent more positive stories from being told in traditional media outlets.

It seems like the goal is to have a balanced portrayal of Detroit in the media, but how can this be achieved?  Is the idea to have a balanced portrayal with a complete history in every story or an even score at the end of the month or year for each publication?

Off to talk about hidden stories in small groups…..

If a reporter cuts down a tree, but no one’s there to hear it fall…

The conversation is going fast and furious this afternoon… the topic is “Telling Detroit’s Untold Stories.”

So far, suggestions have ranged from more focus on Detroit’s positives like culture and the arts, sports, opportunities for young people, urban gardens… Here’s the deal, though – I see these kinds of stories reported every day. Panel moderators Bill Mitchell and Nichole Christian asked Jennette Pierce of Inside Detroit, one of the participants in the conversation, where she thinks responsibility lies – is it the media’s responsibility to inform people, or do people have a personal responsibility to inform themselves? Pierce says both. As any reporter will tell you, you can write stories until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t make people read them…

Another participant, the Rev. Simmons (whose first name I didn’t catch) just raised an interesting question – how do you talk about Detroit’s warts? Simmons, who lives in Brightmoor, says he doesn’t see his reality reflected in mainstream media coverage. He says his life is neither rah-rah electronic music and sports nor Dodge City, get your guns… and most of the coverage he sees lies on one extreme.

I would like to add a caveat here, though as a Crain’s Detroit Business reporter I probably shouldn’t be promoting another publication - a writer named Detroitblogger John, in my opinion, consistently does some of the best journalism in Detroit. His byline often appears in the Metro Times. John is a faithful chronicler of the soul of Detroit, and his love for the city and its people comes through in everything he writes.

I think this is an example of the question Bill and Nichole were asking… if a journalist does great work, but no one is there to hear the tree fall…

Hidden gems

Here are some suggestions:

1. Stories about youth development- slam poetry, you tube, stories about the high achieving and the “not-so-high” achievers, peace zones.

2. Stories about community power- alternative to collapse, housing collectives, community gardens, community recycling programs and clothing swaps.

3.  Stories about people- living, working, surviving, thriving in Detroit.

Traditional media can’t be everywhere especially during a time of declining resources.  To tell the hidden stories, we must realize that journalism isn’t just for trained journalists.

It can be intimidating, but it can be done.

Uncovering the hidden stories.

Nicole Christian, drafter of the Detroit Declaration and Director of Communications for TechTown, and Bill Mitchell from Poynter Institute lead conference attendees in a discussion regarding the missed opportunities for collaboration in regards to finding, reporting and telling more balanced stories regarding Detroit.

social media

“Every human being and every organization is potentially a global publisher.”

Kirk Cheyfitz, CEO, Story Worldwide

Given his statement, how can social media be used to “take charge of Detroit’s story?”

A short history of communication

Kirk Cheyfitz: In 30,000 BC, he who could harness communication technology was the shaman, high priest or village headman. Communication was power. The printing press changed everything, making communication a two-way street.

Even the Internet, he says, was originally conceived of as a tool for elites – the military and academia. But then regular folks got ahold of it.

That begs the question, in my opinion – isn’t the Internet still a tool for elites? As in, you have to have access to a computer and Internet access to use it? Despite the best efforts of public libraries, Internet access is hardly ubiquitous. Though it certainly seems that way to those of us who have it.

The Event

Thursday, March
18, 2010
9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Law School Auditorium Wayne State University

Because of limited space, attendance at Taking Charge of Our Story is by invitation only. We urge everyone else to participate online.


This event is presented by New Detroit in partnership with Wayne State University and Marygrove College. Support has been provided by the following sponsors:

  • Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
  • Detroit Free Press
  • DTE Energy Foundation
  • John S and James L Knight Foundation
  • Story Worldwide
  • Taubman