Drive-by journalism

HERE‘s a link to a thought-provoking article by Thomas Morton on

…After suffering through the nation’s worst and most concentrated examples of racial violence, industrial collapse, serial arson, crack war, and municipal bankruptcy following years of municipal kleptocracy, Detroit is being descended on by a plague of reporters…

METAPHOR BOULEVARD: Writer Thomas Morton in one of the landscapes photographers prefer - a desolate alley framing the glossy GM skyscraper in the background.  Picture: Joseph Patel

METAPHOR BLVD: Writer Thomas Morton in the Detroit landscapes visiting photographers prefer - a desolate alley framing the glossy GM skyscraper in the background. Picture: Joseph Patel

The streets in the most decayed parts of Detroit are crowded with reporters, columnists and photographers despatched by the media to capture some “ruin porn”, according to Thomas Morton.

Detroit, he says, is being used as a body-double for the downturn. Scenes such as the crumbling Michigan Central Depot or the now derelict car plants in East Detroit are being sucked up and spat out as metaphors for the woes of the city and/or of the world economy.  Spreads of appropriately moody pictures from the latter location – pictured above – have been published by the New York Times (US) Daily Mirror (UK) and Auto Motor (Poland) in one month alone.

But the images and story they’re selling aren’t as neatly connected as we’re led to believe. Picture elements that deny the story are carefully cropped out. Parts of the city which could other,  even more unpalatable, stories remain camera-free. And the most photographed locations ain’t necessarily what they seem to be:

The city’s second-most-overused blight shot is of the mile-long ruins of the Packard Auto Plant in East Detroit.
“This is the visiting reporters’ favorite thing to see,” James said. “The people all come here to shoot the story of the auto industry and they love this shot because they can be like, ‘See that? That’s where they made the cars,’ and then forget to add the footnote that the plant’s been closed since 1956.”

Morton says waste and corruption, compounded by central Detroit’s disappearing tax-base, have caused swathes of the city to be deserted. But the pictures of the hole in the doughnut aren’t being used to tell that story.  It’s drive-by journalism, and we’re lapping it up.

There’s lots more thought-provoking insights and wry humour in the original article so I hope you’ll go read it.   ♦


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