Failure to communicate?

Universally, the people we’ve spoken to here in Detroit over the last couple of days have nothing kind to say about their mainstream news sources.  They see the Detroit Free Press as disconnected from the community.  They hated a recent Dateline special about their city.  And even Time’s well-intentioned “Assignment Detroit” — in which the newsweekly purchased a house and assigned a reporter to cover the city for a year — has been highly criticized.

In her speech tonight at a Journalism That Matters, Assignment Detroit blogger Karen Dybis admitted that some of this criticism was well founded.  And that the magazine launched the project badly with this darkly-drawn cover.  Many of us found Karen’s talk refreshingly candid — and it bears sharing.

Indeed one participant tonight suggested that perhaps the answer might be that Time drop the “embedded journalist” model and turn the blog over to the local community.  This would fit with our developing narrative.  Major institutions have failed — the car companies, banks, governments and to a certain extent, mainstream media.  People are opting for independence, self-sufficiency and more control over their lives.  We saw a hint of this in our Independent America film post-9/11 and the Iraq war.  But now, with an economic crisis upon us (and keenly felt especially here in Detroit), some people just don’t want to wait for an institutional savior.

So perhaps the independent storytellers among us need to motivate people to “grow” communities: create trusted networks and push neighborhood-centric ventures such as urban farms.  That’s indeed what’s happening here in Detroit.  The news may be dire (today the Wall Street Journal documented “black flight” as the city’s new worry), but we are also seeing amazing stamina and resistance in certain “blighted” areas.  For many, social technologies and storytelling are the spark to inspire this kind of work.  That’s what we hope to document during our remaining time here.

Check out some great images that Scott Macklin has captured so far.  Tomorrow: a visit to the Eastern Farmers Market, a meeting with the head of Arise Detroit and some spoken word action.