Buy a house in the “inner city”. Drop in a reporter to live for a year. Sounds like a recipe for a reality show.
But this is the script that Time, Inc. used to launch its Assignment Detroit project nearly a year ago. And by the accounts of Detroit participants at Journalism That Matters: “Create or Die” in Detroit this June 3-6, 2010, Time’s project has been sorely lacking in representing the reality they live every day.
The community’s anger started with the initial cover of Time, Inc.’s magazine that portrayed a city abandoned. For those who continue to live and work in Detroit, the cover is a symbol of the approach by Time, Inc. that denies the passion and resurgence happening all across Detroit.
A palpable tension filled the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History as JTM participants listened to Karen Dybis, a blogger for the Time, Inc. project, describe her role in the project (Video). She outlined the goals and failures of the project in a frank appraisal.
So what can we learn from Time, Inc.’s example?
Communities are complex, rich environments. A house doesn’t buy you access.
Embedded journalists aren’t of the community. They parachute in and out with no real investment in the outcome of their works.