WDET's Raw Feed

Can We Tell The Whole Detroit Story?

by: Mikel Ellcessor

June 8, 2012


Sometimes, when you poke the bear you know what you are going to get. When we kicked off this week’s crowd-sourced content project, 5 Objective Truths That The Whole World Should Know About Detroit, we thought we knew what would come our way.

The project was timed to offer Detroit metro residents the opportunity to take charge on a perennial nagging complaint: the national media does a lousy job reporting on Detroit. We thought, a couple hundred reporters, editors and publishers are going to be in town for the Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference. We thought we could facilitate the process of sourcing up some solid information that would make an impact on these journos, they’d stuff this free research into their bags and have a more factual, rational relationship with Detroit.

We assumed most of the offerings would fall into the “positive” Detroit news category. “Say Nice Things About Detroit” has spawned a whole category of media (Detroit 20/20, Detroit Regional News Hub, Model D, I Am Young Detroit, The People of Detroit, Positive Detroit, Believe in Detroit) and we figured it must have saturated the ground with readily-at-hand facts that have been assembled to counteract all the “negative” coverage.

We were totally wrong.

To be fair, we had a lot of excellent suggestions. But the real truth is that the basic construction of a factual statement (Noun + Verb + Data Point) was a tough assignment. We got tons of aspirational statements, prideful assertions, popular folklore, boasting…. all great stuff, but it revealed a tough reality.

Here in Detroit, we have a hard time looking in the mirror and giving an honest, nuanced response to what we see.

Decades of cringing over broad, lazy, now Google-driven reporting has given Detroit residents a thin skin. The overcompensation has become that we champion “positive” stories even if they paint a ludicrously inaccurate picture of the city and then fail to deeply engage with sharp, incisive commentary from principled individuals like The Detroit Free Press’ Stephen Henderson.

We stand on chairs and cheer the arrival of a Detroit Twitter sales office.

When are we going to rouse ourselves with equal passion over Detroit’s children?

Here’s a verifiable fact that didn’t surface in our project: More than 1 in 5 children in Wayne County are food insecure, struggling to access the nutritious food they need (110,430 kids; 22.8%)—Feeding America, “Map the Meal Gap 2010”

Here’s another: DPS has provided universal free breakfast since 2000, meaning all students receive a breakfast at no charge. For the last two years, DPS has been cited by Food Research Action Committee, a child hunger advocacy group out of Washington, as #2 in the nation for feeding the highest percent (87%) of eligible students a breakfast meal.

School is almost out. Where are these kids going to get breakfast?

We are in a mad rush to tell a story where we are proud of hard earned renewal and even modest growth, where we celebrate the arrival and attraction of cultural creatives, and where we lift up the entrepreneurial spirit that has given our region and country. In doing so, we are failing to reach back and lift up those who are least able to participate in the latest Detroit Renaissance: hundreds of thousands of children who have absolutely zero culpability in the facts of their lives.

Can we please make an agreement that while we are considering the story we want to tell about Detroit, and the facts we will use to bolster our case, we remember them and then do something to make their lives better - right now?

This is the only childhood they are going to have. And that’s an objective, verifiable fact.

J. Mikel Ellcessor
General Manager, WDET