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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bing Administration moves press office to basement (but don’t take it wrong)

Posted on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 6:15 PM

Even during the most embattled days of the Coleman Young, Dennis Archer and Kwame Kilpatrick administrations, Detroit’s city hall reporters remained housed in offices just outside the mayor’s quarters.

That era ends with Dave Bing.

The City Hall bureau that is still rented and shared by the dailies and a few radio stations is moving to the basement, under a plan that mayoral spokeswoman Karen Dumas says will make better use of space at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

No more 11th floor views. No more memorabilia that’s been on the walls since previous eras of Detroit’s leaders and their chroniclers.

And most importantly, no more close proximity to Bing’s office.

The suite of well-worn offices is situated between the elevators and the mayor’s digs, giving reporters any easy glimpse at who was coming or going — if they didn’t use the private elevator inside the mayor’s suite. They have quick access to news conferences and face-to-face meetings.

“There were times it worked out well for the mayor and times the coverage didn’t help the mayor by having reporters so close,” says Bill McGraw, who worked out of the bureau in the ’80s and ’90s as a scribe for the Detroit Free Press.

Dumas insists that the city is re-evaluating all of its space configurations and is not moving the media away just to get them away from the mayor.

“It’s not the best use of space. That’s the sole reason. It has nothing to do with them,” she says. “We’ve got a great working relationship with the reporters there and will continue to do so.

They’re just an elevator ride away.”

Granted, in Detroit’s (and the world’s) journalistic heyday, teams of ink-stained hacks from the dailies would jostle in the bureau’s hallways and the echoes of animated radio voices would bounce off the walls.

Now both the Freep and The Detroit News city hall bureaus have just two or three reporters and only one or two radio reporters occasionally use the space.

Still, something that never changes in this business is the power of perception.

And while it might be a little dramatic to invoke the famed Damon Keith, who wrote “Democracies die behind closed doors,” we do wonder what will happens to Detroit when what few keepers of democracy that remain are banished to the basement.

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