Detroit’s Irish-American mayor, Mike Duggan, has hit on a new way to remodel the narrative of a city beset by a history of decay, race riots and violence: hire an official “chief storyteller”.
As the city starts to emerge from a long period of decline, the democrat mayor has appointed Aaron Foley, a popular African-American journalist to the new position in a city that at 83% percent African-American – the blackest major metropolis in America.
The $75,000 (£58,000) position, believed to be the first of its kind in the US, was conceived to give Detroiters a way to connect and discuss issues that don’t get covered by the city’s traditional media, and part of a dedication Duggan and Foley share to create a “meaningful and impactful ways to give Detroiters and their neighbourhoods a stronger voice.”
Foley, formerly the editor of Blac Detroit magazine and author of How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass, says local residents deserve better and more diverse stories about the reality of living in the city. Many have long since grown accustomedto stories that celebrate either the “ruin porn” of abandoned auto-factories and urban desolation, or pre-emptively trumpet Detroit’s resurgence as a post-industrial tech hub.
“Detroit is a very diverse city of more than 200 neighbourhoods and a lot the coverage is focused on just a handful. There’s a lot more to Detroit than bankruptcy, and the Detroit media focuses on food, crime and sports,” Foley says. “I wanted to create something a bit different.”
Aaron Foley and his small staff of reporters will focus on the present and the reality of living in Detroit. Photograph: Kwabena Shabu
But he is facing a battle. Detroit is in the headlines once again at the moment thanks to director Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, an effort to dramatise the 1967 incident at the Algiers Motel, in which three black men were killed by a group of white police officers.
The Oscar-winning director said she hoped to start a conversation about race, but many critics have said it mischaracterises the city. Alternet critic Frank Joyce wrote: “Approach [the film] as a case study of the intrinsic limits of the white gaze, combined with the manipulation of facts for political and Hollywood marketing purposes.”
In contrast, the stories, interviews and first-person accounts Foley and his small staff of reporters are producing will be focused on the present and the reality of living in the city, and will be featured on social media, the city’s cable channels and a new locally focused website, The Neighborhoods, which launched last week.