Think about the last great story about Detroit you read or watched online. Maybe it was an investigation into the Detroit Land Bank, a Q&A with somebody you admire or a review of a new restaurant you have to try. While the topics are infinite, good stories themselves share a few things in common. They are original; they speak to the wants and needs of a local community; and we learn something we never knew before after having read them.
If you’re a regular Detour reader, it’s no secret that we’ve been hard at work the past six months working on a new idea for our successful membership program. While we aren’t ready to reveal it all yet, we are launching one of the coolest features this week: a way to direct your dollars straight to the local writers you want to read. Our Community-Powered Journalism program will reward the local writers we partner with when the community itself values their storytelling.
Journalists are essential to cities like Detroit, and the work they do is irreplaceable: they keep the community informed, hold local leaders accountable and connect us to one another. Yet local news outlets are often asked by their corporate leaders to earn ever-increasing pageview numbers at the expense of the information their audience needs and deserves.
This model, to be plain, sucks. We know “clickbait” is bad for democracy, and we are just as tired as you of seeing so many stories that are irrelevant to Detroiters’ lives on local sites.
Our community-powered journalism program offers readers like you another alternative — rewarding your favorite writers for reporting on stories that matter directly to YOU and that you find valuable. It’s a new model for local journalism that we hope can spread to other cities. This project is funded in part by the Facebook Community Network and the Google News Innovation Challenge.
Here’s how it works: Beginning this week, and throughout 2020, we’ll be sharing stories by our Community-Powered Journalists in our newsletter — you can sign up here — and here at DetourDetroiter.com. If you’re a big fan of one of their stories and share it with a friend, the writer receives a cash bonus. Bigger bonuses await when new readers sign up for our newsletters, purchase a membership or buy event tickets after reading a story by a Community-Powered Journalist.
The reporters in our experiment will be paid no matter how many or few referrals they inspire — these bonuses are paid atop their normal freelance fees. We’ll also be announcing some very cool Detour Detroit events featuring these journalists, so be sure to stay tuned!
Our inaugural Community-Powered Journalists are:
Anna Clark, a journalist in Detroit and the author of “The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy,” which was named one of the year’s best books by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Amazon, the New York Public Library, and others. It is the winner of the Hillman Prize in Book Journalism and the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award. Her writing has appeared in Elle, the New York Times, Politico, the Columbia Journalism Review, Next City, and other places. She has been a Fulbright fellow in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan. She received the Excellence in Environmental Journalism award from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Council.
Imani Mixon, who was born and raised at the magnetic center of the world’s cultural compass — Detroit, Michigan. She is a long-form storyteller who is inspired by everyday griots who bear witness to their surroundings and report it back out. Equal parts urgent and essential, her multimedia work centers the experiences of Black women and independent artists.
Rhonda J. Smith, a lifelong Detroiter who resides in the Russell Woods-Sullivan area, where she has served on the neighborhood association board, written for its newsletter, organized activities in its parks and provided residents with tax foreclosure prevention information. With a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in communication, she has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in outlets including The Detroit News, Newsday, Chicago Tribune and Wayne County Community College District publications. She was a 2019 Detour Detroit Emerging Voices Fellow.
Local journalism won’t survive without new ideas. The community-powered journalism program is one of those unproven ideas, and one we believe can be a step toward a more sustainable and equitable journalism model. It’s also a huge milestone in Detour’s journey, and basically our founding mission in a nutshell: creating a better relationship between local media and readers like you.
Header illustration of Clark, Mixon and Smith by Detroit-based illustrator Steven Shik.