Detroit Journalism Cooperative chronicles story of Detroit’s reinvention on multiple platforms

Photo of Detroit by Flickr user Kevin Chang.

John Bebow is president and CEO of The Center for Michigan, a nonprofit “think and do tank” which publishes Bridge, a thrice-weekly online news journal in Michigan. Below, he describes how the adversity of the Great Recession helped create the environment for five media properties to form the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. Knight Foundation is extending its financial support of the cooperative from one to three years. The cooperative includes, Bridge, Detroit Public Television, Michigan Radio, New Michigan Media and WDET.

When I wear the Detroit Tigers’ “Old English D” baseball cap as I travel across the country, it always draws a reaction.

Sometimes it’s a knowing nod from someone who appreciates tough and gritty and has a sense that Detroit is an incredible news town full of tough stories and amazing tales of reinvention.

Sometimes it’s a remark of head-shaking disrespect. Sometimes it’s unsolicited pity.

I try to leave the doubters I meet in these encounters with at least a different kind of question in their minds.

Detroit’s many troubles are well-known, from the racial strife of 50 years ago to the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy proceedings, which recently concluded.

Less well-known is the daily drama of a city trying mightily to right itself.

It’s a distinctly American story. A story that is relevant to all of America.

And a story to which the Detroit Journalism Cooperative constantly adds new chapters.

We are five separate media entities – a public TV station, two public radio stations, a nonprofit news website, and an ethnic publishing company – all joined together in a quest to tell Detroit’s stories in new ways. We watchdog city government, public services and education. We chronicle neighborhoods undergoing innumerable transitions – some good, some bad. We outline the winners and losers of the bankruptcy process. We keep digging.

We invite you to check out our work.

We hope the lessons from Detroit’s past, present and future all have bearing on urban areas nationwide. A few recent examples of our work:

Out of adversity, new opportunity is born. That’s exactly what has happened in the media scene from which the Detroit Journalism Cooperative has grown. Metro Detroit fell into the Great Recession somewhat earlier than the rest of the nation. Our business suffered like so many other industries. But the journalism obligations just kept growing. Steadily, some of us started working together, collaborating in new ways. So, by the time Knight Foundation and Ford Foundation provided generous financial support at the beginning of 2014, our separate businesses, and the region’s news audience, were primed for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Our collaboration is only 18 months old, but we’re starting to win awards. More importantly, we’re going deeper and deeper into neighborhoods and the lives of residents. For example, check out how Detroit’s next hot neighborhood is hiding in plain sight. Or, see how tough reinvention can be, even in neighborhoods showered with attention and reinvestment.

We have much more work to do.

Next time you see someone wearing that “Old English D,” we hope the Detroit Tigers will be in first place – and we hope you’ll be reminded to check back in on how we’re refining collaborative journalism and multimedia storytelling for the benefit of Detroit, its residents – and those who follow cities and journalism nationwide.