Detroit Journalism Cooperative Tackles Race, Poverty and Power

Journalists from nine news outlets in Detroit have joined forces to tackle the trenchant issues of race, poverty and power that continue to hobble that city’s climb out of bankruptcy.

Launched last week, the ambitious, seven-part series will continue with in-depth investigations and special reports contributed by journalists in a unique multiracial media collaboration called the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC), which Renaissance Journalism helped to organize more than two years ago.

The series will examine the root causes of the racial disturbances that boiled over in Detroit for five days in July 1967, leading to deaths of 10 whites and 33 African Americans (most at the hands of law enforcement), 7,231 arrests and upwards of $323 million in damages. The project is called “The Intersection,” which refers to the spot at 12th Street and Clairmount where the violence erupted.

The 1967 disturbances have come to symbolize the deep racial problems and inequalities that divide the city. Even the name of the event remains controversial—many white residents call it a “riot,” while many African Americans call it a “rebellion.”

In the late 1960s, racial disturbances broke out in many cities across the country, but Detroit’s were the worst. President Johnson’s Kerner Commission concluded that racial discrimination against African Americans was at the root of the problem. The commission warned: “Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white – separate but unequal.”

In announcing the launch of “The Intersection,” members of the DJC said that the central question posed in the series is this:

“Today, and throughout this year, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC) will explore whether the social and economic conditions that sparked the tragic events of 1967 have improved in Detroit. In the wake of recent unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore and other American cities, such questions are hardly academic.”

The DJC’s members include mainstream, public media and ethnic news outlets, which gives them the ability to apply multiple perspectives to the inquiry and to reach diverse audiences. The members include Bridge Magazine, Detroit Public TV, Detroit Public Radio, Michigan Public Radio; and five ethnic newspapers, The Arab American News, The Jewish Chronicle, The Michigan Chronicle, The Latino Press and The Michigan Korean Weekly. Renaissance Journalism played a key role in helping to form the DJC with support from The Ford Foundation.

Political power is the subject of the series’ debut. A story Bridge Magazine explores why “black clout wanes” when more than 80 percent of Detroit’s population is African American.  The political aspirations of other ethnic groups are examined in stories by The Arab American News, The Michigan Korean Weekly and Michigan Public Radio. Other stories detail the history of the riots and the Kerner Commission.

Future episodes will examine the police, poverty, racial attitudes, schools, justice and segregation.