Let the story tell itself

So we arrived in Detroit with a rough idea for a film: using a Journalism That Matters gathering as the “peg” to draw a parallel between a profession in crisis, a city in crisis — and what people at the community level are doing to alleviate those seeming insurmountable challenges.  I hadn’t done any intensive pre-production work, nor extensive research.  I didn’t think it would help to do so.  Ultimately, “being there” is the best research (something I learned when shooting my first film — I thought the initial trip would serve as research for the “real thing.”  In the end, the research trip was the “real thing.”)

I woke up jet lagged and slightly befuddled at how I was going to be productive today.  I knew that I’d have the opening remarks at Journalism That Matters (the tagline “Create or Die” is a fairly dramatic hook) to potentially frame the story.  My colleague Scott and I decided to grab a late breakfast Le Petit Zinc in Corktown.  We figured we could chat with some locals and get the lay of the land.

As we ate our crepes and sipped on espresso, Scott started riffing on how we could somehow draw a parallel between urban farming and community journalism (“people who had moved away from the land in the Deep South to take production line jobs in Detroit were now moving back to the land after those jobs disappeared; food is being created, stories are being created, community is at the center of both initiatives”).

I had noticed a flyer on the wall of the restaurant extolling the virtues of the Detroit Agriculture network, and all of its farmers markets.  And we knew that the restaurant grew its own herbs and tomatoes out back.  We had to find some stories, so I asked the manager where I could find the local edgy weekly newspaper.

He went into an adjacent office and introduced us to Terry, the owner of the Michigan Citizen, self-described as “America’s most progressive community newspaper.”  Terry’s family also owns the Le Petit Zinc.  That got Scott all excited.

“The fact that the newspaper and the restaurant are in the same fucking building — it’s here!” he said.  We had to grin at the serendipity of it all.

Suddenly, we had a thread to tie community farming with community storytelling.  And the pieces started falling into place.  Terry’s new Managing Editor, Xenobia connected us to her friend at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.  Jeff DeBruyn from the Corktown Residents Association just happened to be picking up his coffee at Le Petit Zinc, and insisted on taking us on a quick tour of the neighborhood, telling us how social media and community-organizing were going to help take back the neighborhood.  His friend, Garden Greg, has started a bunch of urban farms throughout the area, and will meet us on Saturday at the Eastern Farmer’s Market.  That’s also where the chef of Le Petit Zinc will shop for produce that morning.

I had started the day bleary-eyed and somewhat unsure as to how to grapple with our venture.  As Scott (the Yogi Berra of academia) would say, “We may not know what we’re going to do, but we do know what we’re doing.”  As we start to connect with people, the story begins to reveal itself.


  1. Nice, congrats. Sounds promising. I doubt you remember this, and it may not have even been true, but I mentioned to you last winter that there were no grocery stores in Detroit proper. Then with all the unused urban space being used for farming, sounds like a fascinating story lingering out there somewhere.

    Good luck.

  2. So, if I hear you correctly…you did what good reporters have done for MANY years. You went out, started talking to folks, developed relationships, listened, found great stories. OMG! If only more people would do that. The stories are everywhere. You just need to look and listen. Hanson, I know this is all about “new” journalism and you are The Master. But in reality, it’s stuff that good reporters did years and years ago. We just have WAY better tools that allow anyone to tell those stories, if they’ll just look. The newspapers, radio/tv folks, etc. should be beating a path to your door, my friend. You’re The Master of new and could teach those still trying to make the old work how to do it right. Please keep these posts coming they’re excellent!

  3. Thanks for the reminder Michael. Reminds me of the “food deserts” from my New Orleans film.

    Stan, you’re right about “good reporting.” The reason why I bring it up again is (a) I’m thrilled that my output won’t be constrained to a ridiculous, vacuous 2-minute TV spot; (b) thanks to new technologies, the story itself is just the beginning of the relationship with the subjects who are profiled. So in a way, the story not only tells itself, it takes on a life of its own once it’s shared with the world.

  4. Good luck on the trip, Hanson. You may want to contact the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. (http://www.cskdetroit.org/)

    I produced a couple segments and shows that they were involved in, and they were very passionate. I know they had an urban farm project going, too.

    Also, you can probably find some good BRoll and gain some solid interviews at Eastern Market. (http://www.detroiteasternmarket.com/)

    And go to Lafayette Coney if you want a coney dog. (http://www.yelp.com/biz/lafayette-coney-island-detroit). Of course, you may want to remember the tums.

  5. So excited to hear what’s next for this project, esp. as you make connections with the community, those doing urban farming and re-birthing the city.

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