NYT Freelancer Shines a Positive Light on Detroit

In the bankrupt Motor City, a traditional journalist is doing her part to show the world there remains a lot more to the area than bad economic news.

Jennifer Conlin, 51, grew up in Ann Arbor and during her college days, spent a lot of time in Detroit. After 20 years living abroad in various cities with her AP-employed husband, she came back to Michigan with their three children in 2010. During that time, she had become a regular freelance contributor to the New York Times and upon her return, the paper started sending her to Detroit quite a bit for assignments.

Three years later, per a feature interview by Concentrate, Conlin is tooling around the area for another reason: CriticCar, a digital start-up funded by a $100,000 Knight Foundation grant. The idea is to record, at various arts events, the impressions and criticisms of John Q. Public:

Conlin says the idea was partly motivated by a desire to provide more positive and diverse local media coverage. “You can’t even watch television in Detroit any more, especially with the bankruptcy now, because it focuses on crime so much,” she says. “You just see black kids in hoodies who have robbed a bank or broken into a car.”

“But there are these fantastic young men and women who are talking about having their first experience in theater, or seeing their brother or sister at Mosaic, or seeing a dance performance for the first time.”

Conlin put together the idea for the venture with colleague Dan Shaw and partnered, on the administrative side, with local non-profit Artrain. She plans to publish a CriticCar App and hopes, possibly, to expand the idea to other cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Incidentally, the fact that Concentrate is the media vehicle for this story only adds further adds to the overall innovation and digital media flavors. The Washtenaw County online outlet is part of a larger network, owned and operated by Detroit’s Issue Media Group, that includes Rapid Growth in Grand Rapids, Capital Gains in Lansing and Pop City in Pittsburgh.