by Marge Sorge and Maura Campbell
Eight years ago a group of Detroiters came together to help change the camera and story angles through which Detroit was viewed – beyond ruin porn, political scandal and the demise of the auto industry. We called it the Detroit Regional News Hub or The Detroit Hub for short.
This blog site, Detroit Unspun, was one of the tools we used to share under-the-radar stories about Detroit’s transformation.
What we started has become a movement. And, we are proud we made a difference.
Eight years later Detroit is no longer listed in the top five most violent cities, the New York Times listed it as one of 52 places to visit in 2017 and National Geographic named it THE city to visit for great food on the North American continent. And there is so much more.
The Hub and Detroit Unspun shared those stories and so many more. It’s been a great ride.
Now we are turning Detroit Unspun over to Vanessa Denha Garmo and Daniel Cherrin, who early on were instrumental in helping us get those under the radar stories out. Vanessa was then press secretary for Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, and Daniel was communications director and press secretary to Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr.
Today they have their own businesses. Vanessa runs Denha Media Group and Daniel, North Coast Strategies.
They will officially take over on August 1 and will continue to build upon our original mission — covering the rarely told stories about Detroit and its neighborhoods. They will host events and be engaged in telling and sharing what is going on in the Detroit region. They will take Detroit Unspun to a new level and create a more advanced storytelling platform to help promote the region.
You, our readers, have been an important part of the process. You have helped us find those under-the-radar stories. Please continue to share your stories and ideas with Dan and Vanessa. Just send them a note on our Facebook page or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How we made a difference
Before we go we want to tell you a little bit about the goals behind Detroit Unspun and its sister the Detroit Regional News Hub (The Detroit HUB).
We started with just the two of us – Maura and Marge – along with Anita Marsee, our terrific executive assistant who kept all the balls in the air.
We both had careers in journalism, so we figured the best way to accomplish our goal was to ask our Detroit journalist friends for their ideas. Their answer was simple. PR is not your job, but if you could help reporters get to people who would give them objective interviews that would be a plus. We took their advice and moved forward.
At that time it was difficult for media who dropped into our city – and sometimes our hometown reporters – to find the right people to interview. Instead those who parachuted in often found the train station, the old Packard plant and houses with trees growing up in them.
Those things were all true, but then so was the renaissance on the riverfront, new businesses popping up run by young entrepreneurs and immigrants, more people working and moving downtown and major businesses working together to transform Detroit.
Some reporters had some very weird ideas about Detroit. They thought there was a person with a gun behind every corner and downtown was abandon. One even asked if there were plans to flood the Lodge to make a new river since no one lived anywhere near that freeway. Go figure!
One reporter from Chicago even commented in her story that she initially thought the best thing about coming to Detroit was seeing all the fall colors while driving here. She changed her mind after attending one of our Detroit Transformation Media Briefings, which we held annually to take reporters around the city and its neighborhoods.
We shared the whole story, no spin
Detroit’s image was obviously suffering from the omission of nuance. We wanted reporters to see the whole story – the good, the bad and the ugly. No spin. More complete truth.
So we created a concierge for journalists near and far and helped them get to people who would give them the unvarnished truth – good and bad – about our city. Yes, we helped them get to people who talked about all the issues Detroit faced, and still faces, including black versus white, immigration, gentrification, education, jobs and many others. But those same people also shared how Detroit is a city where people are coming together to make a difference.
With that in mind we also enlisted the help of numerous public relations folks who helped us connect journalists to individuals who would talk objectively about the issues facing the city. That PR Advisory Committee included nearly 100 PR and communications leads for local businesses, civic and government organizations, the educational community, the cultural community, PR agencies, neighborhood associations and others.
To further get the word out we launched the weekly Bulldog edition, which was a compilation of stories from all sources, including Detroit Unspun, that talked about Detroit’s transformation. The Bulldog went to local, national and international reporters as well as businesses and government leaders and other interested parties. It became a vital source for story ideas for many reporters.
We also thought it was important for young people to have a voice so we launched Youth Neighborhood News, a broadcast journalism program for high school students. Vanessa Denha Garmo ran that program for us until funding ran out two years ago. She did a tremendous job. The students were so good they even did work for PBS NewsHour.
Those students covered the younger side of the news and saw Detroit from a very different angle than we did as adults, which not only opened our eyes but also the eyes of journalists who saw their work.
Nearly 50 students participated and every one of them has gone on to higher education or successful careers early in their lives. We are so proud of that.
Great team made the difference
To accomplish all this we had an exceptional social media team made up of Jeremiah Staes, David Lingholm and Ashley Hennen. We started this blog site to share stories about Detroit’s transformation from the grass roots level. Later former Time blogger Karen Dybis joined us as did M. Lapham, Terry Sullivan, Jerome Espy and Kenny Karpov, who was our photographer. They all found under-the-radar stories about our city and its neighborhoods that we wanted to share.
Now they have moved on and are still finding ways to share Detroit’s stories.
Maura Campbell, APR, is a writer and strategic communications consultant who will continue to make a difference in Detroit. She is the co-founder of Ribbon Farm Distillers, which is dedicated to “Distilling Detroit’s French Spirit.” In the planning stages this distillery, tasting room and gift shop will be located on a former French Ribbon Farm in Detroit. It will feature among other things a Calvados inspired aged apple brandy made from Michigan apples. Detroit is America’s first French city and its French history and spirit are hiding in plain sight. Maura wants to help more discover it.
Marge Sorge is stepping back from the day-to-day hustle. It’s time to do some more traveling, some freelance and maybe write that book all former journalists say they will do. She’ll remain connected to sharing, telling and even writing stories about our city’s ongoing transformation and will continue to work on projects and serve on boards that make a difference in Detroit.
Karen Dybis blogs for several sites and has authored three books on Detroit – “The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In: Cars, Candy & Canoodling in the Motor City” and “Better Made in Michigan” about the Better Made potato chip company. Her latest book, “The Witch of Delray: A Story of Death, Debauchery and Old Detroit,” comes out in October.
Jeremiah Staes, whose background is in broadcast journalism and social media, initially took those skills to Strategic Staffing Solutions as part of its communication team. He now runs Daily Detroit.
M. Lapham writes for Detroit Unspun and The Hub Detroit. We collaborated with that group last year to bring you more news about the revitalization of Detroit’s neighborhoods, which is vital to the city’s transformation.
Dave Lingholm took his social media skills to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Mayor Duggan’s office and now to DTE Energy. He is pursuing his MBA through Michigan State University’s executive program.
Kenny Karpov now lives in Berlin, Germany, and is a photographer at CADUS – Refine Global Solidarity, a charitable and independent aid organization currently working in the area of humanitarian aid in the Kurdish governed parts of North Syria. He has also worked with other humanitarian organizations as well as for the New York Times.
Ashley Hennen moved to Hatch Detroit and Tour de Troit where she led communications and is now executive director of The Scarab Club.
Terry Sullivan, who was a top public relations person at General Motors before retiring from that company and volunteering with us, is now fully retired.
Anita Marsee is an executive assistant in the communications department at Rock Ventures.
One of our greatest compliments came from New York Times reporter Jennifer Conlin who wrote, “The Hub is run by people who have worked in journalism and understand the rules by which we must operate. They do not try to influence what we are writing but rather help lead us to the correct information, which is more difficult in Detroit than in other cities because so many different organizations are involved in the city’s revival but many are also new or virtually unknown, despite the good work they are doing. This is where the Detroit Regional News Hub not only serves journalists, but also Detroit – as a connector of accurate communication.”
We made a difference, and we are very pleased our mission and The Detroit Hub/Detroit Unspun brand will continue to live with Vanessa and Daniel leading the way.
We hope to run into you soon in Detroit.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter @DetroitUnspun.