New York Times gets Detroit wrong again

Oct 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm

We honestly don't want to sound too petty about it, but the New York Times keeps irritating us with its efforts to praise Detroit's progress. 

The latest is a travel piece by Jennifer Conlin, a globetrotting travel writer now based in Ann Arbor. Taken as a whole, it's a fair piece discussing some of the more exciting new restaurants in town. It more fairly represents the city's demographics, with the inclusion of an African American-owned eatery. (One imagines a New York Times travel editor declaring — in more tactful terms — "Be sure to include some black people, so those truculent Detroit journalists lay off us this time!")

But the problem, at least in this instance, is mostly one of an upper-crust writer descending for a few days into a complicated city of hundreds of thousands of people and making declarations much too general for her knowledge.

Particularly, this line:

Considered a food desert not so long ago, Detroit is now a culinary oasis ...

This statement hit us like a thunderclap. Really? A culinary oasis? Have the denizens of Dexter-Davison traded in their coney dogs for caviar and salmon blini tortes? Have the citizens around city airport swapped their Faygo for Fume Blanc? 

Truth be told, the food desert idea was always a little bit myopic. The lack of large, national, chain groceries may seem alarming to a general audience, but the city's small groceries number more than 100, and are often places where the money spent stays in the community. There are also seasonal farmers markets, neighborhood gardens and other options that round out this complete picture.

But, yes, there remain many places in the city where it can be a chore to procure fresh, healthful food, or find a restaurant that offers sensible dietary choices. Add a number of other factors — lack of food education, poor public transit and low car ownership, limited income, lack of health care — and you begin to see why diabetes and obesity are such chronic problems in some of the less-well-appointed neighborhoods of the city. And anybody ostensibly covering the city should know these facts.

Which all goes back to our spunky and intrepid travelista, who declares at the outset: "Keeping up with the dining scene in Detroit these days is a full-time job."

We can assure you it is. And when you airdrop into certain neighborhoods and make sweeping generalizations, it makes you look like the drive-by journalist you really are.

As for the good people at New York Times, perhaps they shouldn't get so swept up in the breathless prose of a freelancer that they let their editorial judgment slide.