Monthly Archives: June 2015

Daily Detroit, Please Get Your Shit Together

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I’m no one’s media critic; hell, everyone has something to say about the state of media in Detroit these days, so we’re all part of some weird collective that thinks it knows exactly how things should be done. But I know bullshit when I smell it, and there’s a steaming heap of it at Daily Detroit right now.

First, let’s talk about exactly what Daily Detroit is. They just came out of nowhere as a feel-good blog, obviously geared toward newer residents (and suburban hopefuls) of Detroit, since its entire focus is on downtown development, restaurants (you can never, ever go wrong with making a list of restaurants in Detroit, no matter how repetitive they can be since every list has the same 10 or 20) and rehashed press releases about new incentives for living here or whatever. There has hardly been any substance, but lots of pretty pictures that would lead you to think that Detroit is just a fine and dandy place to live and we’re not suffering from any of the societal ills plaguing other major cities. Except we are, and now Daily Detroit has suddenly realized this.

I don’t read Daily D, though I “liked” them on Facebook. It’s already irking that Daily Detroit doesn’t actually publish daily. It’s obvious they don’t have a copy editor. But still, I check them out every now and then, just to see if they would evolve.

They haven’t.

When every other local outlet covered Motor City Pride against the backdrop of the state of same-sex marriage in the country, Daily Detroit put up a photo gallery and described the pride fest as an explosion of “glitter” and “face-painting.” Not only is this a violation of any basic, intro-to-journalism class — boiling down the celebration of a marginalized community into photos with zero context about why those people are celebrating, and never revisiting the subject again until next year — but face-painting? Really? That’s what you decided to highlight?

It took a lot to hold back when a list — oh, another list? Cool journalism, bro — of books to read about to Detroit included exactly zero authors of color. Oh, there’s exactly one (of ten) books about black life in Detroit, but that’s it. But again, you can’t fault that, since at that point, I was trying to allow Daily Detroit and its rookie staff to grow.

But now they’ve dived head first into the treacherous waters of racial inequality in Detroit, and their “I’m a white guy from the suburbs who’s lived downtown for two months and therefore I’m an expert” slip took little time to show. Line by line, I just…couldn’t even deal.

The racial divide in Detroit is a big topic of conversation lately.

Lately? As in, over the last few days? Have you seen what’s been happening in Detroit for the last 10, 20…100 years, even? We’re already off to a running start into the abyss.

Whether it’s gentrification of downtown and midtown, access to water, diversity in the workplace, new vs. old Detroit, or incidents like the beating of Steven Utash, the conversation has cropped up in a lot of different ways as Detroit tries to rebound economically.

Midtown should be capitalized. You should know this since you guys write about it all the goddamn time. Access to water isn’t the issue — payment for the bills are. (Here’s where you should hire both a copy editor and an actual editor.) And while the beating of Utash was tragic, remember that one guy in Inkster who was beaten a few months ago? Like, wouldn’t that be a fresher reference or at least be mentioned alongside Utash, even if it didn’t take place in the city? (Oh, and by the way — the conversation has “cropped up” [ugh] outside the city limits.)

“Rebound economically” lets me know exactly where Daily Detroit stands on where their biases are. Capital interests, at any cost of those that might not benefit from them in the long run. But, oh, it gets better.

At about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday we got word that Al Sharpton’s National Action Network would be at a protest in front of the Atwater Brewery at 5:30 p.m. The protest was related to an eviction dispute involving the owner of the Tangerine Room Supper Club, Darnell Small, and owner of the building and Atwater Brewery, Mark Reith.

“We got word” = “We read in Metro Times,” first of all. I mean, if you’re going to aggregate, cite the source.

At 5:30 p.m., the corner was up to what seemed to be usual business. Atwater patrons sipped beers on the sidewalk, a food truck had posted up by the back entrance and a game of corn hole carried on inside. 

Good eye for detail, but what the fuck does corn hole have to do with this situation?

At about 6:30 p.m., a group of about 15 African American protesters with the group National Action Network, began to rally “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Atwater has got to go.” Aside from the Channel 7 news van, it seemed as if we were the only other media outlet present.

Oh, boy. Couldn’t wait to identify their race, could you? (But on this note, if you’re going to be “media,” the AP style is “black.” Or at least throw a hyphen in African-American. Jesus.) I mean, there’s a tactful way to do this. Photos could have stated the obvious. Or you could have explained somewhere in the story what the National Action Network is. But hey, let’s go ahead and juxtapose the “usual business” at Atwater with these “African American protestors,” because that’s not awkward at all.

(Side note: Fellow media rarely, if ever, acknowledge what other media outlets are at a scene of a protest. Because who cares?)

Here’s where things got strange.

Here’s where I know you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.

Our attempts to take pictures and get quotes were met with angry resistance from the protestors, who would not comment on the purpose or significance of the demonstration. Two members of the group disrupted our ability to take quality pictures by recording us with their smartphones and holding them up to our lens, and standing in the way as we moved to get a better angle. Obstruction of journalism, if you will.

My goodness. Where to start? No journalist outside their newsroom says “get quotes.” There are manners to this. You don’t go to a source or anyone else you’re interviewing and say “hey, can I GET a QUOTE?” Because that’s what you’re reducing them to: A quote. Words are powerful, yes. And it’s your duty to tell a story, yes. But these are people. Humans. Life beings. Not quotes.

“Disrupted our ability to take quality pictures.” Well, boo-fucking-hoo. You didn’t get your “quality” pictures for your site. There are photographers who lose their lives in places way more dangerous than a protest outside a microbrewery. But whose story are you trying to tell at this point? These protesters didn’t owe you anything.

“Obstruction of journalism, if you will.” HAHAHAHALOLOLOL this is precious. This isn’t a public, government entity withholding documents from taxpaying citizens here, Daily D. It’s a protest. If they’re blocking your way, maybe next time step a little ways back and observe from afar?

It was confusing to say the least; there we were to tell the story, their story, and we were met with direct resistance and shouting as if we were in fact, the enemy. What was a great opportunity for a conversation became a confrontation.

They’re not here for a conversation, guys. They are here for a protest, and you guys want to sing Kum Ba Ya. And at this point, you’ve been injecting yourselves into not just the story unfolding on the scene, but also in how you’re relaying it back to me, the reader. Every sentence is dripping with “me, me, me.” Why couldn’t we get these photos? Why couldn’t we get these quotes? Why won’t these people talk to us?

As the protest moved inside of the Atwater Brewery, we pulled aside Mr. Small. We talked to him for a bit about the particulars of his situation, after all, that was the story we came for. Are black business owners being targeted and pushed out of the city? Or is it other reasons? Sadly, there was very little information to gather.

Maybe there’s little information to gather because Small is trying to figure that shit out his damn self. You’ve got a business owner in a sticky situation, trying to preserve his livelihood, trying to figure out his next step, and you’re shifting blame on him — your source — for not complying to your requests in the middle of a protest. A protest that was likely to already be running high with emotion, but made even more tense by the way you guys were acting there. We’ll get to that in a second though.

The dispute between Small and Reith seems legally complex, and unfortunate. According to Small, Atwater has still not granted Darnell access to his space and has withheld his key from him for four weeks. We asked to see legal documents supporting their case, and they said there’d be more on Tuesday. If that’s true and they’re defying a court order, that’s not right and it is a situation that deserves attention. It also seems like this could of been solved a long time ago and in a much simpler manner.

If it’s legally complex — and you don’t have the right to tell us it’s “unfortunate,” because the reader determines that — then it’s your job as a journalist (since that’s what you say you are) to break down those complexities for us, the readers.

You’ve got Small’s side of the story. Now where’s Atwater’s side? You know, that’s basic journalism as well — getting both sides. Tenant-landlord dispute? You get both the tenant AND the landlord!

“If that’s true.” WHAT. WHAT. You are the journalist! It’s your job to tell us what the truth is, not speculate on if something is true, or ask us, the reader, to determine what the truth is you’re trying to report.

“It also seems like this could of been solved a long time ago and in a much simpler manner.” Could of been. COULD OF BEEN. My inner copy editor is screaming. But who the fuck made you judge, jury and executioner to determine if this situation could have been solved? You just said this situation was “complex.” Now you’re saying it’s simple? What the hell?

The Reverend Al Sharpton was not present.

No shit? But what does Sharpton’s non-presence have to do with the situation? Is the nationwide president of the NAACP expected to show at local-chapter demonstrations? Or, let me give you an organization that’s not race-based so you can understand: Is the Pope supposed to show up at every Archdiocese of Detroit event? (You have heard of the Archdiocese of Detroit, correct?)

It appeared that the National Action Network had gotten wind of the event and was exploiting it for their own agenda, which could explain the inability to comment on the situation.

You don’t make that determination. But go ahead, keep injecting yourself in the story.

When we pushed for answers about why the protestors behaved as such, we were told basically that it was because we weren’t the right color. We were told the protesters didn’t know who the players were.

They’re not a government entity. They don’t owe you anything, no matter how much you “push” them. They invited the media to the event, sure. That means it’s your job to listen to their protests and observe how they go about doing so. Why question their “behavior”? But you know what, I’m so confused at this point because I only have your side of the story. And that side is being filtered through the lens of someone with little experience as a reporter, but a lot of experience as a white suburban transplant.

So we left, unsure of what more there was to do, uncomfortable about our reception, and confused about the tactics employed by the protestors. We were reminded of the hot national topic of videotaping the police and the push for mandatory body cameras.

I…can’t even. How did THIS situation even remotely make you think of the numerous amount of police brutality incidents that are driving the body-camera conversation? How? You didn’t get a few iPhone shots of a protest, big deal. But you relate that to the injuries and deaths of citizens at the hands of police?

The Detroit Police a Department did a yeoman’s job moving the protestors out of Atwater Brewery and back into the street where it wound down, with patrons still sipping their beers and the food truck still humming.

Whoa, thank goodness that food truck is OK! (Also, if I have to Google a phrase, like I did with “yeoman’s job,” you probably shouldn’t be using it. Hire an editor that can help you present information in a way most readers can understand.)

The next morning we received an apology from the spokesperson for Darnell Small, who was very clear that he was “in no way the kind of man who wants anyone mistreated – especially members of the media community who are trying to tell his story.” Some of the National Action Network folks, according to him, thought we were working for Atwater.

Wait for it…

When I unzipped my jacket later, I realized I was wearing my shirt which reads “The City of Detroit: Pretending $hit’s All Good Since 1701.”

OK, you know what? I can see why the protesters were distrustful of you. Because you weren’t even dressed like a journalist. Well, OK — you weren’t dressed in a way that would make people think that you’re a professional working for a professional organization. You were dressed like you’re working at Atwater. Or going to Atwater. You didn’t have on a button-up shirt or some other career-casual clothing, did you? No khakis, at least? Not saying this is how journalists dress 24/7. But you’ve got to at least try to look the part.

I can bet you didn’t have professional equipment. Just your iPhone, right? Which is great — I use my iPhone as a voice recorder sometimes. But never as a camera; that’s what cameras are for. And I bet you had no press pass or any other identification that showed you might be a journalist. When I worked at MLive Detroit, it was hard as hell trying to “brand” ourselves because no one had heard of MLive (or they thought we were MLife, the casino rewards program) and we didn’t have press passes for the longest time. Eventually, our employer gave us branded book bags, stickers and other MLive swag and the oh-so-coveted press passes so we could prove to security guards, law enforcement, attorneys and, oh, aaaaaaannngry protesters that we were media. You don’t have any of this, do you? You think your Facebook following is enough to prove who Daily Detroit is?

You want to be a journalist in this town? Start acting like one. Put on some big-boy pants and grow up.

Start by reporting the facts; don’t be pissy at “protesters” and try to create an issue where there is none. I see what you did there with that subhead: “What happens when the protestors, not the cops, are the ones blocking the journalists?” You’re very unfairly conflating national protests with this ragtag group here in Detroit. You’re sending signals that all protests are like this; all “African American” protests are like this.

Hire a goddamn editor. Run spell check. Jesus.

Keep yourself out the story. That’s journalism 101.

But most of all, stop calling yourselves journalists. You’re bloggers, and not behaving like very good ones. You don’t deserve that title. It’s an insult to the actual journalists in this city doing the work. You’ve crossed every line there is to cross in this one story, and you have the nerve to throw around terms like “obstruction of journalism” as if you guys are the New York Times or some shit. You’re not even Examiner.com-level at this point.

You don’t deserve to represent this city if this is how you’re going to report what’s going on here. You want to talk about issues like race, class, inequality, economics and fairness? Build a fucking DeLorean, go back about 10 years and take some college courses or something, because that’s the only way you’re going to get a clue. But at this point, I’d just avoid it altogether. Sensitive issues in this city are being told by people who have no idea how to talk about them, and that’s something I have a huge problem with.