It’s time for all of us to tell a better story about our home
Everybody loves a good story. We like underdogs to win and happy endings. We like characters and plot lines that develop into something bigger and grander at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.
We enjoy stories where regular folk triumph over something bigger and stronger like a bureaucratic government or an evil corporation. A good story can change people’s opinions and views on a subject. In some cases, a good story — especially if its a true story— can offer enough inspiration to change a person’s behavior.
Obviously, this can happen in reverse as well. If a positive, inspiring story can change people’s attitudes and behaviors for good, the same can be said for depressing and sad stories. They can cause people to lose faith in a system and change people’s opinions to not support or believe in a cause or issue. These kind of stories may cause people to feel helpless to change the way things are or to improve their situation.
Last week, the mayor of Detroit decided he wanted to change people’s behaviors and views about their own city through better storytelling. He was tired of the stories of abandoned auto factories, urban desolation, and that the only bright spot the traditional media covered in his city was the gentrification of their downtown core. In other words, stories about white millennials in a city that is 83 percent African-American. So Mayor Mike Duggan hired a local journalist and magazine editor named Aaron Foley to be the “Chief Storyteller” for the city of Detroit — a first in the nation.
Foley’s job is to tell the stories not being told and by doing so, he hopes to change how people — including locals — view Detroit. One of his first goals is to introduce neighbors to each other. The sheer size of Detroit is a complication. With more than 200 neighborhoods, people identify with the one in which they live and don’t often venture out to other neighborhoods. This sort of isolationism means people don’t know what their neighbors are doing.
The traditional media in Detroit focuses on crime, food and sports. Foley wants to tell stories about the people. “We’re trying to build a platform where things about the city are not only easy to understand, but expressed in a way that will make you want to learn more. I want to finally debunk some of the myths that have been clouding the city for years. I firmly believe that the value of a city is measured by the character of its residents, and Detroiters are worth more than pure gold.”
I hope by now that you see where I’m going with this. The Grand Valley lacks a good storyteller. A common complaint of the newspaper is that there’s too much crime and I agree — except that it’s the newspaper’s job to report what’s going on and crime is among those things that are going on.
Rising crime is why we’re being asked to raise the sales tax this fall — to put more money into crime prevention. I’m not suggesting that the newspaper stop doing its job, but if the only stories you hear are about crime, you might begin to think there’s nothing else.
Regional and national media certainly aren’t helping either. Denver’s most widely read magazine poked fun at us for not having any decent lodging options to recommend in a recent story about golfing at Redlands Mesa Golf course. A story this summer in The New Yorker probably did the most damage to our morale and self-esteem, labeling us as out of touch, crazy conservatives with a racist streak. Nothing in the story was factually incorrect, but the journalist, Peter Hessler, focused so much attention on a small sliver of our community that he missed the bigger story entirely, which is that we’re a fairly isolated community navigating huge change with little to no help from the outside.
Most of us want a more diversified and stable economy with good jobs where people thrive and a lot of people are working really hard trying to figure out how to make that happen. But if you don’t know that story and all you hear about are crime statistics and The Deplorables, you’ll believe that’s all that we are and that’s just irresponsible. It’s irresponsible on the part of the journalist, but it’s also irresponsible of us to allow outsiders to control our narrative. It’s time we took back the reins. It’s time for all of us to tell a better story.