City Transformation, Creativity

An open letter to reporters coming to Detroit: Stay home if you’re a whiner. Really.


Dear Journalists:

Let’s start with the basics: Stop using adjectives to describe Detroit such as “struggling,” “post-industrial” or “decaying.”

2It’s time to buy a thesaurus. It’s time to think more deeply.

It’s not that we aren’t all of those words. We are in the middle of a lot of stuff, and most of it is messed up. We are kinda gloomy. It’s just that if I read those same tired, old statements again I think my head will explode.

When did it happen? When did I get tired of reading so-called positive stories about Detroit? Perhaps it came when I clicked on the latest photo essay and read all about how we had a “glorious past” and how much the city’s residents are trying to get by despite the “sad times” happening now. And this was supposed to be an article that sung of our virtues and opportunities!

For pity’s sake, knock it off. Stop with the drama. Trust me, there are people in New York, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago going through far worse than us. I appreciate the coverage and all, websites such as BuzzFeed and other click baiters. I just can’t take one more picture of that damn train station. I cannot read another article about coney dogs. I don’t want to see any more clever graffiti. I. Just. Can’t. Any. More.

4We don’t have “motor oil in our veins.” We aren’t “gritty.” Good Lord, what does that even mean? We haven’t been “left behind.” We’re a city that made big mistakes and now we’re finally getting our heads around how to fix it. Sort of. There are many problems that won’t ever be fixed. But you cannot capture that in a 500-word article or 12 photos, no matter how dramatically you light the subjects. Just sayin’.

Maybe I’m going to these articles for validation. Maybe I’m tempted to read them to see what outsiders think. Perhaps I’m curious about what everyone else sees and whether that clicks with what I see when I’m in Detroit.

The bottom line is that I’m still not seeing it. There is no feeling to these pieces that can express the emotions I feel when I see a new façade go up on Livernois. There is no peace in these articles – they offer no satisfaction like when I hear that a new project that could change a neighborhood is being funded. I don’t see the joy. I still see only decay and I read only empty adjectives.

1Oh, and one more thing. If one of you writes again how you’re “pleasantly surprised” that Detroit isn’t a pit or covered in debris or drowning in horror, I will lose it. If you complain because you’re assigned to cover the North American International Auto Show and it’s cold in Michigan or you’re scared of the city or you’re worried about crime or you’re a feckless imbecile with a laptop and a WordPress account, just stay home.

So, as a fellow writer, I ask politely: Rework, rewrite and edit. Dig deep into your heart, squeeze out all your emotions and put them on the page. If you’re still in town, take a long walk through the city before you hit “send” or “post.” If you’re out of town, close your eyes and walk through those buildings and talk with people again in your mind. Then, write. Rewrite. Edit.

I’m not asking you to stop. Keep trying. I know you’re doing your best, really I do. I think there is some sincerity in what you’re putting out there. Just as Detroit is a work in progress, so is our story.

Try, try again.


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