Critics Pounce on New York Times for ‘Reverse Ruin Porn’ Photo Essay on Detroit  –  Deadline Detroit

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The online-only presentation begins with this view of a shell at John R and Erskine streets, a block west of Brush Park.


The premise sounds straightforward, though the topic is sensitive and fraught with pitfalls: “Last week, we visited the city to find further signs of recovery as Detroit moves out from under budgetary oversight,” writes New York Times reporter Monica Davey at the start of a web-only essay with 14 photos.


Davey, the paper’s Chicago bureau, delivers 461 words alongside street scenes snapped by freelancer Emily Najera, who came from Grand Rapids for the project. She’s a visiting professor of photography at Grand Valley State University, her alma mater.


The presentation sketches how a city that “was crumbling” is now “transforming” as “old Victorians glisten with new interiors.” No interiors — glistening, gleaming or glowing — are shown.


Neither are any people, though three are quoted briefly — a teen awaiting a bus, the mayor and “a Detroiter who moved away, then returned.”


A construction scene in Brush Park, “where buildings can list for more than a million,” serves as a contrast to decay not far off in Poletown East, where “parts . . . still feel empty” and some streets “are silent and wide open.” 


All photos are stark streetside shots — artistically blurred or evocatively lit — but lacking intimacy, warmth or depth. That sets up this swipe from a Detroit photojournalist:


He’s far from the only critic as local reactions flow on Twitter and at Curbed Detroit.


Zoe Hoster’s snappy tweet characterizes the package as “just reverse ruin porn.”


“Definitely some parachute journalism going on here,” Detroit Free Press web editor Brian Manzullo tweets as a personal reaction. 


Another Detroiter observes:


Curbed Detroit’s post Tuesday by editor Robin Runyan.


At the city’s leading real estate and development site, Curbed editor Robin Runyan wishes The Times would “stay for more than a weekend.” In a thoughtful analysis, she posts Tuesday:


The essay focuses on some standalone houses around Brush Park, and doesn’t mention the major-developer-backed developments involved in transforming the area. The rather short take also declines to detail just how long it’s taken the neighborhood to “come back,” or the tax incentives offered to developers to rehab it.


The photo essay also falls into the trap of ruin porn that’s been the go-to for any national piece about Detroit for years; now it’s often contrasted with the city’s new arena, which depended on hundreds of millions of tax dollars to get built. . . .


Detroit is more complex, frustrating, beautiful, and yes, even resilient than the national media makes it out to be. It’s not just new and it’s not just desolate, yet this is what the world often sees in these pieces.


Even Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times magazine staff writer living temporarily in Detroit on a long-term assignment, expresses skepticism publicly: 


Lastly and powerfully, here’s what Patrick Cooper-McCann, a Wayne State urban studies instructor and University of Michigan doctoral candidate, says in detail:

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