Michigan Radio is creating a reporting position and a community council to help it tell more inclusive stories about Detroit’s neighborhoods.
The Ann Arbor–based public radio network has formed a partnership with ARISE Detroit — an organization that works to empower neighborhoods to volunteer and participate in civic action — to create the 20-person Community Reporting Engagement Council. It will include two members from each of Detroit’s neighborhoods as well as the neighboring towns of Hamtramck and Highland Park.
Hiring the engagement reporter and establishing the council are both small steps toward Michigan Radio’s larger goals to improve its equity, diversity and inclusion, according to News Director Vincent Duffy.
Michigan Radio operates four FM stations in southern and western regions of the state’s lower peninsula. The coverage area of WUOM, its flagship station in Ann Arbor, includes metropolitan Detroit. The population of the city is about 80% Black, Duffy said, and the station has a lot of work to do to improve its coverage of the community.
The organization’s updated strategic plan includes several goals aimed at creating news coverage that is truly representative of Detroit’s neighborhoods, he said. Objectives include diversifying news sources and staff. The plan also calls for meaningful engagement work that informs reporting that reflects the needs of the Detroit community and those working to improve it.
“The people that we cover need to have confidence that we are part of and care about their community and that we’re not just there to fill the airtime,” Duffy said. The community engagement reporter “will be a key part of that process,” he said.
The reporter, who will join the Michigan Radio news team, will work with the council to identify stories about the city’s neighborhoods and for the neighborhoods, Duffy said.
The perfect go-between
Michigan Radio has covered neighborhoods outside of Detroit’s downtown business district, but the reporting was often from the perspective of public officials, Duffy said. While the city’s central core has undergone a “tremendous revitalization” in the last five to 10 years, many of its residents haven’t benefited equally from that economic growth, he said.
“Our reporting on neighborhoods has been somewhat episodic and not really built on relationships,” Duffy said “So we kind of needed … an introduction and a pathway into that community.”
For that introduction, Michigan Radio turned to former journalist turned community organizer Luther Keith, executive director of ARISE Detroit. A former editor and columnist for The Detroit News, Keith created ARISE Detroit after he retired in 2005. The organization works to empower neighborhoods to improve their quality of life through civic action by coordinating with community groups and religious organizations on volunteer projects and local action campaigns.
ARISE Detroit has earned credibility among residents, and Keith’s experience as a journalist makes him the perfect “go-between” as Michigan Radio looks to improve its neighborhood coverage, Duffy said. ARISE Detroit will work with Michigan Radio to recruit council members.
“We don’t have the connections in the neighborhoods or the credibility, necessarily, to talk to all the people … and be able to convene them in the way that I think ARISE will help us do,” said Michigan Radio Marketing Director Steven Chrypinski.
In addition to the partnership on the community reporting and engagement, Michigan Radio is sponsoring ARISE Detroit’s Neighborhoods Day. The event, scheduled for Aug. 7, coordinates hundreds of volunteer activities across the city. Chrypinski said he hopes to deepen the station’s relationships with other community organizations and sees ARISE as the starting point.
‘Stories that change a community’
Keith envisions that the Community Reporting Engagement Council will emphasize coverage that features the views of people who are working on solutions, he said in an interview. Journalists often have tunnel vision in reporting on problems in communities, he said.
Keith declined to describe the types of stories that will be reported or how the council will inform those stories. He’s so invested in developing community-informed coverage that he wants to leave those decisions to the council.
But he is determined that the stories should embolden and empower communities.
“What I am interested in — and what ARISE Detroit is interested in — is community transformation,” Keith said. “Not a couple stories. … I’m talking about stories that change a community and improve the quality of life.”
The partners aim to appoint council members this summer and convene the first quarterly meeting in September, Duffy said. Council members will receive a $50 stipend from the station to “make sure that it is in no way a hardship for them to be a part of these groups.”
Both Chrypinski and Duffy said Michigan Radio could potentially launch similar engagement initiatives with other communities within its coverage area. But this partnership is focused on Detroit.
“We’re hopeful that this is the concept that we can replicate elsewhere,” Chrypinski said.