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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Detroit journalists meet with residents to get feedback on media coverage

Detroit journalists meet with residents to get feedback on media coverage

Journalists in Detroit recently met with local residents to get a better sense of how the media can improve its coverage of the city’s financial crisis.

The conversation was part of a collaborative effort between nine news partners that are working together to report on the causes and impact of the crisis not only in Detroit but in cities throughout Michigan.

The partners — who consider community engagement to be a big part of their work — are Michigan Public RadioDetroit Public Television, Detroit Public Radio, the Center for Michigan; and New Michigan Media — a collaboration of five ethnic newspapers: the Latino Press, The Jewish News, Arab American News, The Michigan Citizen (an African American newspaper), and The Michigan Korean Weekly.

The Ford Foundation asked Renaissance Journalismto set up the collaboration with a $250,000 grant. The Knight Foundation has also given $250,000 to partners in the collaboration.

Jon Funabiki, director of Renaissance Journalism Director and an ivoh board member, said the recent conversation between journalists and residents led to a deeper understanding of what’s missing in the media’s coverage of Detroit.

In a story for Renaissance Journalism, Funabiki said residents think the national media focuses too much on “ruins porn” — images of downtrodden Detroit — and relies on a “one-size-fits-all” assessment of what needs to be done to turn the city around.

Funabiki writes:

We heard a multitude of ideas and perspectives. What we didn’t hear was begging. Quite the opposite. More than one speaker proudly used the word “scrappy” to describe the people here and urged reporters to pay attention to those who are “Detroiters by choice.” Some bemoaned the belief that suburbanites and residents of other cities have “given up” on Detroit or criticized state politicians who oppose help for Detroit as a way to win elections. Others urged journalists to shine some “sunlight” on no-bid contracts executed by bankruptcy and emergency law managers. Others urged journalists to take an in-depth look at race relations, the tensions between new and longtime residents and how immigrants have revitalized some areas—especially Latinos in the city’s southwest sector.

It’s encouraging to see journalists ask Detroit residents for their input, instead of being the sole decision-makers about which stories get told. As journalists tell these stories, we’ll be curious to see the impact they have on communities. There’s a lot of potential to produce quality journalism that not only informs people — but that creates meaningful change and offers up solutions to the problems Detroit and surrounding cities are facing.