Onward! New narratives for an old town

This week marks my first in the role of managing editor of Model D, a position I am thrilled and honored to hold. As I started writing this -- originally intended to be an introduction of myself to you, our loyal readers -- I began to feel like I was writing a personal profile for an online dating site and was trying to convince you to like me. Instead of talking about myself, I've decided to reflect a little about the past, present, and future of Model D as I see it.

Nearly 10 years ago, a new publication arrived on the Detroit scene. It was different from the established pubs -- the dailies, the alt weeklies, and the business pages. For one, its content only could be found online. At the time, the concept of a web magazine was as new as that of "social media."

But it was Model D's tone, not its format, that distinguished it from the the cacophony of media noise surrounding Detroit in 2005, much of which was negative.

Instead of denouncing Detroit as a crime capital, Model D affirmed its status as a cultural capital. Instead of fixating on imagery of disinvestment, Model D showcased the city as a place worthy of and ready for new investment. Instead of decrying Detroit's hollowness, Model D shined light on its liveliness.

In short, Model D offered alternative narratives about what Detroit was what it could be.

Over the years, Model D has been criticised for its stories' positivity -- labeled by some as "boosterism." But it is hard to deny the resonance these types of stories have had with people, not just in Detroit, but around the country. In the 10 years since Model D launched, Issue Media Group, Model D's parent company, has launched another 21 publications around the country (even one in Canada!) based on its flagship publication in Detroit, proving that Detroit wasn't the only market hungry for place-affirming, forward looking stories.

While it is difficult to quantify the direct impact Model D has had in influencing the common narratives about Detroit, anecdotes of its influence are plentiful. It's not uncommon to hear transplants begin recounting their tales of relocation to Detroit with, "Well, in 2008, before I moved to Detroit, I read in Model D about…" Nor is it uncommon to hear established residents recall how being covered in Model D gave them validation and helped them take their projects further.

So what's next?

There is no less noise about Detroit these days than there was when Model D launched in 2005, nor has sensationalized coverage of the city fallen out of favor. Yet other media outlets ever increasingly have been willing to tell Detroit stories in a significantly deeper way than before, willing (in some cases) to look beyond the sensational and discover the profound that abounds throughout the city. It is hard to imagine that Model D has not helped blaze a trail for those who desire to tell that kind of story.

Today I assume the role of managing editor of Model D, a job admirably executed by my friend and colleague Walter Wasacz since September 2010 (read his farewell piece here). Now it is my job to ensure that Model D continues to lead the charge in telling the types of stories that get beyond the sensational and point toward a better future for this great city -- stories that honor Detroit's rich history, its people, and our collective future.

A common narrative has emerged in many recent writings and conversations about Detroit -- that Detroit is in fact a "Tale of Two Cities": Midtown/Downtown (areas benefiting massive amounts of investment and development from private entities) and everywhere else (where residents and block clubs must fend for themselves against the extreme forces of blight, abandonment, and crime).

This narrative of a "Tale of Two Cities" is perpetuated by insiders and outsiders alike. But it is a false narrative, or at least an extreme oversimplification of life in Detroit's 139 square miles. The lazy man writes, "Detroit is a tale of two cities" (or worse, "Detroit is the next _____").  It is a convenient way of framing a very complicated place. But Detroit's complexity is a major source of it's beauty. Let's not try to deprive ourselves of that beauty.

Detroit is a city of diverse neighborhoods worthy of exploration and great people worthy of our attention -- more truthfully a single city of infinite tales than a tale of two cities. We at Model D can only hope to tell a fraction of these stories, but damnit we will do our best to participate in creating new narratives that don't oversimplify this great place.

As Lisa Collins wrote in one of the first issues of Model D way back in 2005, "Detroit’s story is not ending. It’s just beginning."

10 years later, those words ring truer than ever.

Matthew Lewis is managing editor of Model D.
Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew


Read more articles by Matthew Lewis.

Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative. 
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