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Monday, 15 November, 2010 11:04 AM

TIME Magazine editors wrap up yearlong coverage of Assignment Detroit

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

From left to right: Bobby Ghosh (Deputy International Editor, TIME Magazine), John Huey (Editor-in-Chief, Time Inc.), Steven Gray (Assignment Detroit Bureau Chief, TIME Magazine) and moderator Devin Scillian (WDIV-TV Local 4).

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

DETROIT -- They bought a house on Detroit's West Village for $99,900 and stayed there for an entire year. TIME Magazine editors, photographers and bloggers wrote 750 blog posts, 200 internet stories, 55 print stories and 46 video stories posted online. Assignment Detroit is now complete and the staff will sell the home and will donate $100,000 divided equally to four nonprofit organizations within the city. The newsmagazine's editors said they learned a lot and they shared it all at a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club last Thursday.

Panelists at the meeting included John Huey (Time Inc.'s Editor-in-Chief), Bobby Ghosh (TIME Magazine's Deputy International Editor) and Steven Gray (TIME Magazine's Assignment Detroit Bureau Chief). WDIV-TV Local 4 Anchor Devin Scillian served as the moderator.

"We learned that a lot of the things we thought were true were," Huey said. "Like all interesting stories, Detroit is a very complicated story. I learned that there are a lot of people who feel real passionately about their city. Since my main goal was just a lot of rich storytelling, we accomplished a good bit of that. The challenge became maintaining the narrative in a way that would continue to attract a big audience. I was surprised in the reaction we got in the online coverage particularly because it turns out that there is this diaspora of Detroiters that are fascinated with the subject."

Three cover stories about Detroit were featured on three different magazines: TIME, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. The first story about Detroit in this project was "Detroit: The Death -- and Possibly Life -- of a Great City" on Sept. 24, 2009. The final story is "How to Shrink a City" on Nov. 11, 2010.

"One of the advantages of this project is all of us who came and reported here made deeper contacts with people in the community here," Ghosh explained. "Officials, as well as folks that we can continue to mine going forward. I'm definitely interested in how newcomers to this country in a time that is particularly hostile to immigrants, how Detroit deals with its immigrants. Detroit lets itself be sort of a petri dish."

Huey, Ghosh and Gray admit that some metro Detroiters were not pleased with their reporting. However, the editors say the stories were written for a nationwide audience, not just for people from the Detroit.

"Any city where there's a boom story, a bust story, it is kind of like I can say anything about my sister," the editor-in-chief said. "But you better not say anything about my town. So you can sit around and complain about Detroit all you want. But when a journalist shows up and perhaps points out something that is less than ideal, those are fighting words. We thought so many issues that mattered to the rest of the country were in sharp relief here whether its education, race, political fractional issues. We come in here with no agenda other than trying to tell the story."

The assignment and the project was groundbreaking. The idea is something that had never been attempted in the history of journalism. Will the magazine do it again in another city?

"It didn't have a natural ending, it had an artificial ending of the project," Huey answered. "We'll continue to write about Detroit. It's still important. No, I don't have plans to do anything like this. But I wouldn't rule it out if it presented itself."

The three editors agree that the Motor City is in a much better position now than when they arrived a year ago. They said the city is turning around in more ways than one.

"It's a city in the world that's one of the most passionate," Gray explained. "It's a city that was on the brink of collapse and now it's on the brink of renewal. I think they have some really smart people in place to help pull it on the right side of that equation. Will it happen? I don't know."

Huey added: "It doesn't feel nearly as desperate or as fearful as it did a year and a half ago. Why that is? There are a lot of reasons. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with what we did. My observation is people have settled into the new reality all over the country. It doesn't that have sense of freefalling that it had 18 months ago."

Will Rick Snyder help the city of Detroit or ignore Motown when he becomes the new Michigan governor on Jan. 1?

"Oh, I think it will be interesting to see how he deals with education in Detroit specifically," the Assignment Detroit Bureau Chief said.

For more information on TIME Magazine's Assignment Detroit, visit www.time.com/time/detroit.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A historical photo of people enjoying the outdoors on Detroit's Belle Isle (1945).

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Detroit Economic Club President & CEO Beth Chappell listens as U.S. Army soldier Hale addresses the crowd on Veteran's Day.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Chappell welcomes everyone to the meeting.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Time Inc. completed its Assignment Detroit project at the D.E.C.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Chappell turns it over to the presiding officer, Sandra Hermanoff.

 

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