Advice For Reporting On Detroit: Avoid 'Urban Settler' Metaphors
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Detroit's got a pile of troubles. It also has a new kind of gritty chic, which has been turned into a brag in ads for cars, watches and startups. So how do you write about Detroit these days without offending, patronizing or glossing over what's there? - by using phrases like gritty chic. Michael Jackman grew up just outside of Detroit. He's now the managing editor of the alternative weekly Detroit Metro Times. And this week he published a tip sheet for journalist writing about Detroit. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Jackman.
MICHAEL JACKMAN: It's my pleasure.
SIMON: So where do you see a lot of writing about Detroit that just hits the wrong note for you?
JACKMAN: Well, I think that where journalists and correspondents tend to stray into trouble is when they use metaphor. For instance, using words like blank slate. They tend to sort of overlook the fact that there are more than 600,000 people still living here.
SIMON: Yeah, that's a pretty crowded slate. What about when you see a phrase like urban settlers?
JACKMAN: Well, that sets off all kinds of unpleasant associations. You're talking about the process of colonization in a metaphoric sense. And typically, the people who are colonized tend to see their culture and their land and, you know, their identity despoiled.
SIMON: Putting Detroit on the map.
JACKMAN: Well, that's a particularly troublesome phrase. Detroit - I hasten to remind people - has been on the map since 1701. And, you know, I suggest to people who want to use that phrase narrowing it down a bit. Certainly, you could put Detroit on the new culinary map, but as far as your standard garden-variety map, we've been there longer than most.
SIMON: And what about that phrase I used, gritty chic? Go ahead, let me have it.
JACKMAN: (Laughter) Well, I don't think there's anything problematic about saying gritty chic. We do have grit in abundance. I think the main problem is that, you know, when you're from Detroit, you get used to being dumped on quite a bit. And so it winds up as an odd consequence that people who want to praise the city might unwittingly cast aspersions upon it.
SIMON: Is it, however, better than - I think we can both remember phrases like urban wasteland or another tick on the Motor City murder meter or that kind of stuff.
JACKMAN: Well, I think a lot of us have become inert to that. Certainly, we have problems in spades. And for any journalist who wants to come to the city and write about its resurgence, which is taking place in pockets in the city, they do well not to generalize because it shows that you're turning a blind eye to the people who've struggled the hardest to stay here.
SIMON: Michael Jackman is managing editor of the Detroit Metro Times. Thanks so much for being with us.
JACKMAN: It's my pleasure.
SIMON: This is NPR News.
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