Journalism

Round up the usual clichés: World Series is ‘changing the perception of Detroit’

The media team’s lineup includes “sagging spirits,” “civic pride” and “advertisement for Detroit.”

World Series games in Detroit invariably bring out minor league reporting and writing by weak journalistic hitters. Their reflexive framing –a battered city cheered by a scrappy team – is Groundhog Day journalism.  

One notable exception stands out among three articles that appeared Friday (Oct. 26).

Before getting to that Associated Press deep dive by two local writers, here’s some of what senior writer Lynn Hoppes posts from the East Coast at ESPN.com:

“If you take jobs out of the mix, I think the best way for the city to turn around is by their sports teams winning. That just shows pride in the community.”

That ridiculous quote from past Tigers pitcher Jack Morris begins with an “if” wider than an outfield wall.

Here’s more of what appears under the ESPN Playbook blog headline When will people stop ripping Detroit?:

Can the Tigers this weekend change the perception of the national audience toward the city?

. . . Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission, said this weekend will go a long way to getting people to think of Detroit in a positive light. “This a great, vibrant city,” Beachnau said. “We have another great opportunity to shape the national perception of our town.”

‘Casting a positive image’

A Detroit-based writer, Steve Keating of Reuters, says “the Tigers’ return to the World Series will do more to boost sagging spirits and civic pride than turn around the local economy.” (So don’t be misled by the news service’s headline: World Series brings Tiger economy to Motown.)

Dave Beachnau

We hear again from Beachnau of the Sports Commission, a bubbly booster who insists the World Series and Stanley Cup games are “casting a positive image on the region. We are changing the perception of Detroit.”

Similarly, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s president and CEO tells Reuters:

“Every game that is going to be played in Detroit on national television is an advertisement for Detroit. It will remind people across the country of the progress the city has made and that Detroit is back in business.”

An outspoken satirist of the “weary city is uplifted” meme appreciates that Keating “reports on the Metro Detroit region’s business comeback, not just urban challenges,” as local communication specialist Matt Friedman puts it on Facebook. “The point is that business is on the right track at the same time as — not because of — the Tigers’ success.”

Well-balanced street reporting

An even more refreshing perspective comes from Ed White and Corey Williams of AP’s Detroit bureau, whose 1,038-word article amounts to a master class in doing this right.

Step One: Leave the office and talk to ordinary Detroiters without World Series tickets. They quote four, including a barber on West 7 Mile Road who says:

“We’re hungry for something to laugh and smile about. We live in such hard times right now in the city of Detroit. Something as small as sport is looked at bigger than it actually should be.”

Step Two: Enrich coverage with telling details an ESPN writer can’t get from Connecticut:

“While waiting [for a bus], she sat on a broken light pole that rested on the sidewalk.”

Step Three: Add meaningful context for perspective that looks past high-profile developments and a three-game World Series home stand.

Beyond this pocket of revitalization, much of Detroit still is struggling to make a comeback after the Great Recession sent the city and the auto industry on a perilous plunge. Public finances are unstable, thousands of homes sit vacant, homicides are on the rise and many residents have left or want to leave.

. . . Downtown shines partly because its attractions – sports teams, casinos, fine arts – are enjoyed by suburbanites who head out of the city as soon as the show or game is over.

Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman in Farmington Hills, praises AP’s enterprise as “the way to tell the story without the clichés.”

Vincent McCraw, an online supervisor at The Detroit News, also cringes when “the news media reaches for the easy and cute” with reports that are “always full of clichés — a general indication that the reporter probably hasn’t ventured far from the site of the Big Event and is caught up in the hype. ”

It could be worse, he notes in a public Facebook comment:

I pray we can get through the week without some media outlet doing the World Series “brings the races together” canard.

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