When out-of-town journalists parachute into Detroit to write about signs of a bubbling renaissance amid the ruins, they often overlook one key element – black people.
Although African Americans make up 83% of the city’s population, they’re rarely represented when the national media attention is positive.
The latest example came Tuesday when the New York Times published its third story in five years about Corktown’s rise as a middle-class enclave. The freelance reporter, Julie Alvin, called Corktown a “serious hotbed of new restaurants, bars, hotels and more” but failed to mention or interview anyone who was not white, critics pointed out.
“To be sure, no one is actually knocking the entrepreneurs’ hustle,” wrote Jalopnik reporter Aaron Foley, a Detroiter. “But are they the only ones opening new business? It’s been consistently proven that the city’s newest business owners come from a range of backgrounds, but only certain ones get pushed into the spotlight.”
Fed up with the omission of black people, one Detroiter took Alvin to task.
@juliemacncheese I myself, don’t know how you managed to miss a black-own business here. Or just go to the usual places. What happened?
— K. Guillory (@kgpaints) June 19, 2014
Alvin, who lives in New York City but is from Grosse Pointe, was polite and apologetic, saying she chose the subjects of the story based on conversations she had with people in the Corktown business scene.
@kgpaints Only realizing now that none of those businesses were black-owned and I deeply regret the omission!
— Julie Alvin (@juliemacncheese) June 19, 2014
Michael Jackman at the Metro Times wrote that the white-centric coverage is getting old.
“Of course, it’s true that Corktown is a Detroit neighborhood that has had its fair share of white residents over the years, but it still rankles us that the New York Times comes to Detroit regularly, but only visits neighborhoods like Corktown and Midtown, almost exclusively covers businesses that are white-owned, white-operated and catering to whites, when Detroit is 82 percent black. You’d think you’d like some representative coverage, yes?”
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.