Journalism

‘Picturesque Blight?’ Asks Free Press About Ruin Porn Tours; ‘Yes,’ It Suggests

It’s a stock journalistic tactic: Drop an edgy phrase in a head, followed by a question mark.

We’re not saying, just asking is the subtext.

The Detroit Free Press takes that approach Jan, 26, 2014 above a profile of ruin porn entrepreneur Jesse WelterPicturesque blight? Photographer offers tours of Detroit’s abandoned buildings.

Don’t blame freelance writer Emma Ockerman or the paper, that punctuation mark is supposed to signal — they’re just asking.

Except . . .

Jesse Welter inside an abandoned Detroit skyscra[er in January 2014. [Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press]

Jesse Welter inside an abandoned Detroit skyscraper in January 2014. [Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press]

Except that the article suggests the answer is yes — blight is picturesque to paying gawkers from Ferndale, Westland, Commerce Township and White Lake Township who explored abandoned sites this month with the tour guide from Royal Oak.

And except that a 36-photo gallery by staff member Eric Seals suggests the question up top is rhetorical. Blight actually is so picturesque it’s worth three dozen color images.

Welter also answers the question, in effect:

“There are more people that appreciate these buildings than don’t. Exploring it is one of my favorite parts, I just want to see it while it’s still here.”

Readers who don’t appreciate his profiteering speak out.

“Do any of you have even an inkling as to how hazardous this is? . . . For someone to run a commercial enterprise giving tours for money, they are at risk of negligence and even criminal negligence if somebody gets hurt or killed,” posts Frank Kalinski of Clawson on the paper’s Facebook page. (More comments are below.)

The contributing writer, an Ohio University freshman from Grosse Pointe Woods, shares the entrepreneur’s tour rates, business name and experience level (“since 2011”) .

After describing how Welter “pulls back a chain-link fence” to lead five followers through the 12-story Park Avenue Building near Grand Circus Park, Ockerman applies a benign euphemism for trespassing: urban exploring tours for photographers, used without quote marks.

Jesse Welter, 42, of suburban Detroit. [Facebook photo]

Jesse Welter, 42, of suburban Detroit. [Facebook photo]

The host describes the allure of slipping under fences and into sites that are legally off-limits:

Welter said he has taken hundreds of people into vacant buildings, from locals to tourists from California and England, to see things he likes to photograph.

Near the end comes another reminder that trespassing tours aren’t in the same league as sightseeing with D:hive guides:

Welter said he has encountered police only once while urban exploring, and it was a year ago. The Detroit Public Schools police gave him a ticket for $225 after taking pictures inside an abandoned school, but he hasn’t had any problems since.

The Freep promotes the coverage on Facebook with a version of the headline, asking: “Could Detroit’s blight problem be considered picturesque?” These are among  comments there and under the original article:

  • I’m tired of “ruin porn.” Enough already.
  • We were arrested taking pictures of the city’s porn.
  • This guy charges money to take people to dumpy places.
  • This is the lamest thing I’ve ever heard of.
  • Why is this even considered news!?
  • Zzzzzzzz… ruin porn is no longer art. It’s cliche. BORING!!!
  • I don’t always profit, but when I do it’s off of the misery of others.
  • Very glad Detroit could provide some stimulating and scary experiences for the suburban tourists.
  • The story shouldn’t be about if decay is beautiful or not. Rather is it moral for him to charge money to see something he doesn’t own? Do his tourist know about the dangers they are agreeing too (asbestos, trespassing fines, unstable buildings, potential crime)? . . . What he is doing is wrong. He’s basically raping abandoned Detroit and making money while doing so.
  • Holy Sweet Mother of the Christ! Do any of you have even an inkling as to how hazardous this is? Floors, walls and ceilings could give way at any time. . . . Hazardous materials are most likely on these sites too — at least lead and asbestos. For someone to run a commercial enterprise giving tours for money they are at risk of negligence and even criminal negligence if somebody gets hurt or killed.
A suburban client climbs to the roof of a 12-story downtown Detroit building during a paid tour led by Jesse Welter. [Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press]

A suburban client climbs to the roof of a 12-story building in downtown Detroit during a paid tour led by Jesse Welter. [Photo by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press]

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