The Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists issued this statement on Saturday:
The Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists does not necessarily dispute the accuracy of the narrow scope of what was reported in NBC's "Dateline" piece, but is concerned about the balance of its content.
"Any journalist working in this city knows about the many challenges facing Detroit, said chapter President Vickie Thomas, who is the city beat and morning drive reporter for WWJ/CBS Radio. "We report on these issues everyday with fairness and balance. When we falter in that regard, our feet are held to the fire as the producers of "Dateline" should be held accountable for a piece that aired nationwide. We believe it was sensational, stereotypical, hit-and-run TV."
Thomas says the chapter's major concern is the unbalanced nature of the report, which relied heavily on the sensational and bypassed the true extent to which dedicated people, besides politicians, are working hard every day to bring the city and its public schools system back from the brink of devastation.
A DC-NABJ member, Luther Keith, a former award-winning columnist and news executive at The Detroit News, took Chris Hansen and the 'Dateline' crew on a four-hour tour of the city to see the good, the bad and the ugly. If you blinked, you missed Keith. The information included in that segment of the piece focused solely on the ugly. Keith's organization, Arise Detroit, was not even mentioned. That organization pulls people, block clubs, organizations and elected officials together to tackle some of the city's greatest challenges. Keith was the first executive director of Wayne State University's Journalism Institute for Minorities, which is now the Institute for Media Diversity.
Watching the piece, viewers would never know that middle- and upper-class residents live in Detroit. There are many exclusive communities in the city, communities whose residents choose to stay in the Detroit.
They include the Boston-Edison district, the location of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy's former mansion, whose current occupants have been featured in the news.
They include Indian Village and the predominantly black Palmer Woods, exclusive enclaves of mansions built by automotive barons.
Why did Chris Hansen not talk to some of these residents to balance his story? The Dateline piece focused exclusively on all the vacant land, abandoned homes and residents living in decaying neighborhoods.
Moreover, Thomas, the DC-NABJ president, pondered why 'Dateline' chose to include the resident who hunts, eats and sells raccoons without offering any real balance and displaying a lack of sensitivity for the historical use of the word "coon."
"To imply that things are so bad in Detroit that black people are resorting to hunting wild game in the streets, is purely sensational journalism." Thomas said, "Especially, when you consider the fact that 'Dateline' passed over Tech Town, a facility that's bursting at the seams as it empowers residents to start their own businesses in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
Dateline "also overlooked key business and civic organizations such as New Detroit, The Booker T. Washington Business Association, The Detroit Regional Chamber, The Detroit Black Expo, The Detroit Urban League and many others that are working to make the city better."
Not one of Detroit's religious leaders, like Bishop Edgar Vann, Bishop Charles Ellis, Rev. Dr. Charles Adams or Rev. Marvin Winans (whose church also operates a charter school) was included. Not one member of the Detroit City Council was featured in the piece. Thomas poised the question, "Without including any of these people and institutions, can a one-hour special on a city really be fair and balanced?"
The title of the Dateline piece is "America Now: City of Heartbreak and Hope." Thomas said, "We believe the majority of the focus centered on the heartbreak and left the hope on the cutting room floor of the editing booth."
We believe Dateline should return to Detroit to present "the other side of the city," Thomas said.
DC-NABJ will not have a representative at the meeting in New York on Monday but we will send correspondence to NBC stating our concerns about the piece. The chapter will also host a community forum on the issue.
Read the rest of Richard Prince's column here.