Two New York Times editors respond Monday to critics of a half-page travel section feature on Corktown entrepreneurs providing "A Gleam of Renewal in Struggling Detroit," as the headline put it Sunday.
"The piece, written by a freelance contributor, has been slammed for featuring only white business owners. After all, Detroit is more than 80 percent black. I heard from a number of readers about it," public editor Margaret Sullivan says in a blog post. She serves as the paper's reader representative, reporting directly to the publisher.
Since Monica Drake became The Times’ travel editor about a year ago, she has tried to broaden and diversify the section’s offerings. ...
African-American herself, she appreciates the need for diversity in her section’s coverage and is trying to foster it. . . .
Ms. Drake . . . does acknowledge the problem with this article.
“It was an oversight, but clearly, we didn’t successfully depict Corktown.” The writer, she said, was concentrating on those businesses that seemed to her the most important to the neighborhood’s resurgence.
The Times' mid-afternoon post says Drake will "address the issue at a staff meeting" and quotes her as saying: "I’m happy that this brings the issue up.”
Sullivan quotes an email from reader Pamela Moreland and links to a critical post at Jalopnik Detroit, as well as to a Deadline Detroit report last Thursday about Twitter exchanges between the writer and a local artist after the article went online. (See earlier coverage below.)
First update | July 19, 5:38 p.m.:
A New York Times freelancer acknowledges in post-publication tweets this afternoon that a significant blind spot skews her feature headlined "A Gleam of Renewal in Struggling Detroit." It will be in the paper's Travel section Sunday and drew sharp pushback from a local blogger after going online Tuesday. (Our original report is below.)
"Only realizing now that none of those businesses [described] were black-owned and I deeply regret the omission," Julie Alvin of New York says in a Twitter reply to criticism from Detroit painter Kelly Guillory. The local reader posted the writer's replies at Reddit, where she says: "I took the author to task about her reporting."
Another one of Alvin's five replies:
@kgpaints Thanks so much for reaching out to discuss. Would love to hear about minority-owned businesses in Corktown from someone who knows— Julie Alvin (@juliemacncheese) June 19, 2014
The freelancer, who says on Facebook she's from Grosse Pointe, was senior associate digital editor at Crain's Autoweek magazine in 2011. She graduated from Boston College in 2005 with a degree in communications. Social justice was her secondary area of study.
The Detroit artist who drew her out on social media is half of the Ashur Collective, with Jaime Acocella. They created "Blood Money: The Road to Detroit," a 200-copy graphic novel published last October.
Original article | July 19, 1 p.m.:
Columnist and reporter Aaron Foley thinks The New York Times keeps overlooking something each time it writes about Detroit's Corktown community.
Writing at Jalopnik Detroit, he gives a shout to the paper's first African American executive editor, who got the job last month.
Yo, Dean Baquet, can you help a brother out? Seems your paper sent another reporter (again) to write a story about Detroit's Corktown (again) and Slows Bar B Q (again) and leave out the minorities (again).
There used to be a time in Detroit when the city's populace would be giddy about getting coverage in The New York Times, especially if the paper wrote something flowery about how things are slowly improving. These days, not so much.
At least three times since the American automotive industry crash, the NYT has rewritten its "here's what's going on in Corktown" story in various forms, focusing on how revival in the (tiny, relatively underpopulated, but significantly white) neighborhood outside downtown. It happened in 2010, 2011 and again yesterday.
All three make sure to mention Slows Bar B Q, often a centerpiece of any national coverage of Detroit. Yesterday's story, however, was missing something the others had: Detroiters of color. None in the photos. None in the text.