Detroit: We won’t move forward unless we learn to listen

One year after bankruptcy, Detroit is at a crossroads. Where do we go from here?


“Oh Media… Catch our good side”


Last Wednesday, six poets from Detroit’s Cody High bravely took the stage at Wayne State’s Community Arts Auditorium and shared those very words. After a series of workshops that provided them with data about the city, they stood in front of hundreds of people to recite a poem they wrote together with the help of our partners at InsideOut Literary Arts. Uncensored and brutally honest, they remained hopeful about Detroit’s future. It was their first time doing anything like this, and likely the first time they had the attention of a room full of adults.

Their performance was part of a free event hosted by WDET and our partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). Following extensive reporting on the bankruptcy process and its effect on citizens, we set out to host an ambitious public broadcast that would reflect on the state of the city one year later.

Did it fall short of your expectations? Yes.




What happened?


From the beginning, WDET was committed to making this event accessible. We were also committed to collaborating with our partners in the DJC because we truly believe that we are all stronger when we work together. A team of over 20 journalists spent months pairing data-driven analysis alongside diverse perspectives in our coverage leading up to event. Ultimately, we could have done better at incorporating this work into the program. While the format we chose was designed for broadcast on both radio and television, it did not lend itself well to in-person engagement. As a result, some attendees understandably felt that their voices had not been heard and that their questions were not being answered.

As was reported last week, a handful of audience members began to protest and disrupt the program following an appearance by Governor Snyder. The heckling continued as the evening went on and made it increasingly difficult for attendees and those watching the live stream online to hear what was being said on and off the stage. Recognizing that things were growing progressively less civil and we would be unable to broadcast the program as planned, we made the decision to end the event early.

This decision had consequences.

Mayor Mike Duggan was waiting backstage, prepared to answer questions that had been submitted by our listeners and the audience. A panel that included journalists from our partners at The Arab American News, The Michigan Chronicle, and The Detroit Jewish News was slated to discuss a range of issues raised by our community. Many of you were disappointed that you could not hear from them and for that we apologize. You’ll have an opportunity to do so in the coming weeks as we invite them to join us on-air during Detroit Today.

A silver lining in all of this is that the disruption, though it stopped one conversation in its tracks, has opened up a larger dialogue.



Where do we go from here?

One year after bankruptcy, Detroit is at another crossroads. The city’s finances look better (for now), but as the tensions that surfaced on Wednesday reveal, there isn’t consensus on whether we are truly better off as a community.

Unfortunately, there are also no easy solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. We’ve only just begun to acknowledge, let alone address, the many structural issues that have led us to this point. While we can’t go back in time, we can choose to learn from our mistakes. Detroit’s bankruptcy was a reminder that we share responsibility for the city’s successes and failures. Lets not forget that.

Like it or not, we’re in this together. It’s time we learn how to listen to one another. To maintain civility no matter how tense and uncomfortable it gets. To resist the urge to react and instead take the time to pause and reflect. To realize our own biases and admit when we were wrong. And most importantly, to develop empathy and understanding. Because if we lose our humanity and sense of community in this process, what are we even fighting for?

If you need some inspiration, look no further than those six poets from Cody High.

Standing there on the stage together, they courageously channeled their experiences and frustrations about growing up in this city into poetry. “Breakthrough bankruptcy to the other side,” they challenged us. “Oh Media… Catch our good side,” they pleaded while reminding us that we are resilient. Yet even their voices were lost in the aftermath. That, to me, is one of the biggest disappointments. If you do anything today, I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to what they had to say. They will be inheriting Detroit soon enough. Are we in agreement about what kind of city we want to hand down? More importantly, what kind of example are we setting in the meantime?


What’s next?

As we move forward, WDET is committed to being an authentic voice for Detroit. To do that, we also need to do a better job of listening. Many of you filled out surveys after the event and shared your thoughts with our reporters and social media. Your feedback was a wake up call for us and it’s taught us some important lessons. For that, we thank you.

In 2016, we’ll be hitting the streets to continue reporting on our region and facilitating important conversations alongside our partners in the DJC. In order to get it right this time, we need your help and your voice.


How do you feel about Detroit right now? What could we, the media, have done differently this last year? Are there stories impacting your community that are still underreported? What are the issues and ideas that we need to discuss? Which voices or perspectives are missing in the conversation and in our coverage? Most importantly, how can we better serve you?


Let us know in the comments below, by tweeting @WDET or using #DETNEXT. You can also send us an e-mail at or call us at 313-577-1255.

We are here and we are listening. Let’s keep this conversation going while we have the chance.





Post-event Coverage from the DJC:


Listen: Post-Bankruptcy, A Booming Detroit Is Still Fragile (WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter for NPR)

Listen: Rebuilding Detroit After Bankruptcy  (WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter for The Takeaway)

Watch: Detroit: One Year After Bankruptcy (Detroit Public Television’s MiWeek) 

Read: Protestors highlight mixed feelings about Detroit post-bankruptcy (The Arab American News)