June 22, 2017

At Curbside for the Bulls and Bears Street Fight

The roadside sign is probably for an offer and not an order. I didn’t count five houses down the road to find the egg salesman, failing to fulfill the duties of a citizen journalist. The citizen journalist is a new occupation that includes everyone. Urban farming is spreading with the weeds and ruin porn in the bear market zip codes. The bull market zip codes are a little more technologically advanced in the social media. But whatever works. The sign for eggs got my attention.

Detroit is the epicenter for the Bulls and Bears. Last year, the Society of Professional Journalists voted John Carlisle of “Detroitblogger John” fame as metro Detroit’s journalist of the year. His blog about mesmerizing stories of Detroit’s citizens has attracted the attention of out of town writers who have come to Detroit to cover the great industrial collapse. Just think what someone like John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, George Orwell, or Ernest Hemingway could have added to their storytelling if they possessed the technological tools available today and in the near future.

History Press published “Detroitblogger John” Carlisle’s book last year that’s a compilation of stories from his blog. Life in the Motor City, Detroit City is the Place to Be, and documentaries like Detropia are putting citizen storytellers at the front lines of this American tragedy. The Detroit Free Press has a remarkable series on the Packard Plant that was built in Detroit in the early 1900s. The plant’s abandoned ruins cover thirty-five acres. The reinforced concrete and asbestos make the cleanup of three million square feet an urban Marshall Plan that’s well beyond the scope of a bankrupt city. The Free Press is asking Detroit’s citizen journalist for help with photographs in turning this massive ruins into living history.

The History Press explained its decision to publish John Carlisle’s book as support for living history. Several of Carlisle’s interview subjects had died before the book was published in the fall of 2011. Life on the streets is hard and the life history of these people is for the weeds, not the bookshelves of historians earning tenure in the bull market zip code. Carlisle’s matter of fact reporting is what makes his stories mesmerizing. It’s  a combination of old school reporting with the new tech tools. Another citizen journalist blog Deadline Detroit, with the tag line homegrown media revolution, posted a story “My Grandma, the Urban Farmer” in November. The eighty year old woman is one of many now using vacant urban land to farm. Her home has security bars on the windows and she’s surrounded by abandoned homes and decay, and much crime. The grandmother-urban farmer told the blogger everything will in time return to its past. This fate makes The History Press a natural media outlet for the citizen journalists. The History Press published Remembering Flint in August from another citizen journalist, Gary Flinn.

The enemy of time is beating at the walls of the newspaper headquarters and all headquarters. More cutbacks and layoffs will make the large, imposing newspaper headquarters acres of ruin like the old auto plants. I was at the Dow headquarters in Midland a few weeks ago and took a picture of the display of flags for all the nations in its business empire. A security guard came up to me and said that I didn’t have permission to take the picture. A public relations official had to be there before permission was granted. While the citizen journalists swarm over the battlefield ruins of Detroit’s commerce, security checks are still required for the living. The dead aren’t as self-conscious about their image. Since I was alone, and didn’t look like a threat, and reminded the guard that pictures were already on the Internet, he grudgingly told me the picture didn’t have to be deleted in his presence.

In the bull market zip codes around Ann Arbor, the main hazard was walking into a telephone pole while reading the smartphone. The conversations were very different than overheard in the bear market zip codes. Businessmen were discussing risks of the fiscal cliff in Washington at the table next to me in the Grand Traverse Pie Company.  People in the bear market zip codes had already gone over the cliff. If the country goes over the fiscal cliff, we might get a great deal on brown eggs that would at least put the egg salesman in a bull market.

The New York Times’ Bill Keller has written a column on the critical importance of being there. All the cutbacks in foreign affairs coverage and risk averse mentality behind the immense headquarter walls are damaging to both news gathering and policy. The first online news stories about the attack in  Benghazi were written in America, not Libya.

Some photos of Detroitblogger John really show his determination to get a good spot at curbside for this fight between the Bulls and Bears. He resembles an urban war correspondent in some of the shots, smoking a cigarette and wearing a knit cap pulled down. There’s a great picture of him in the Metro Times. He’s standing next to a Detroit city limit sign and holding up a scrawled sign to buy his book. He’s wearing the knit cap and gloves with the fingers cut off. There’s just that aura of old school determination, like some of the photographers and reporters killed in the Middle East and Afghanistan in recent years, and an ambassador.

A cold, dreary December rain forced everyone to vacate the streets on the way home. Only one person was on the street at dusk. He was wearing a bandanna and holding the MIA-POW flag on his shoulder as he ran. No matter the weather, he’s out there putting in the miles with the large black flag. A cop drove past, lowered the window, and gave him a fist bump, some recognition for always being there.

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