12/26/2002

Detroit Free Press Slams Ypsi

Dear Detroit Free Press Editor:

Brendel Patterson of the Detroit Free Press wrote on November 29, 2002, "Although some areas look run-down, most of Ypsilanti has well-kept traditional neighborhoods with restored 19th and early 20th Century houses and commercial buildings." http://www.freep.com/realestate/renews/hood29_20021129.htm

Let's see, how much worse could Brendel have made this opening sentence? Let me make a couple of suggestions. Brendel could have written: "Although two people were murdered in Ypsilanti, most of the community is a pretty safe place to live."

Or perhaps she could have said, "Although 2,000 people have fled Ypsilanti in the last 10 years, those that have stayed behind, like where they live." My favorite is, "Although several houses were torched by arsonists last year, those that remain are well built and have many interesting architectural features."

Brendel, this is a real estate report, not a story that is going to net you the next national award for investigative journalism. You don't have to make your first sentence a negative on the community. I can't think of any community in Michigan that is over 100 years old that doesn't have some run down areas. Can you?

Why would you choose to highlight the negative and make it the most important part of your story? The first sentence of the story sets the tone for the rest the article and yet you chose to point out that some areas of Ypsilanti appear to be run-down. Of course you don't identify those areas. In fact you don't actually say they are run-down, you say they 'appear' to be run-down. You don't state a fact; you give an opinion, your opinion. But this article doesn't appear on the Op-Ed page. Oh no, this is in the real estate and business section of your newspaper. Your newspaper, whose motto is, "On guard for 171 years." This sort of protection we don't need.

Why couldn't you write something nice like you did for Taylor, Michigan a couple of weeks ago? You wrote, "Taylor, one of metro Detroit's older suburbs, is experiencing a resurgence with new development."

Well, so is Ypsilanti and in some ways, given the size of the community, Ypsilanti's resurgence is much more spectacular. Moreover, Ypsilanti is Detroit's oldest suburb, but you seemed to have missed that fact too.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that you shouldn't point out the negatives when writing a story. But this isn't a hard hitting news story. The weekly real estate story is the equivalent of Les Nessman's farm report.

There are some great things going on in Ypsilanti. The $100 Million Water Street redevelopment and two great downtowns. Ypsilanti has the second oldest historic district in Michigan and one of the largest historic districts in the country. We also have a pioneering technology zone and economic development partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. We have great festivals from the Elvis Festival to the Orphan Car Show, and New Year's Jubilee to one of the oldest Fourth of July parades in Michigan.

I would like to invite you and your editor to lunch in Ypsilanti, my treat. We can go to one of my favorite downtown restaurants. While enjoying lunch, we can surf the net on a free wireless network that will soon blanket the entire downtown area. Then we can tour one of those run-down neighborhoods and you can see the house I just moved into on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

I hope you will take me up on my offer. I think you will find that we are pretty friendly folks out here and I would welcome the chance to show you what a gem this community really is.

Cheers!

Steve Pierce
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Here is a big surprise; neither Brendel nor her editors at the Free Press will return my calls or letters. I did get this response from another reporter at the Free Press. On December 13, 2002, Judy Rose of the Detroit Free Press wrote:

Hi, Steve Pierce -

For some reason, your e-mail to Brendel got to me. But since I'm here and she's gone, let me tell you she was as appalled as you were by the lead on that story. She did not write it that way.

Somewhere as the piece went through the copy desk, an editor pulled what was a minor phrase and made it into the front sentence. They are not supposed to make changes that severe without checking back with the writer and Brendel has complained strongly about it.

I don't blame you; I'd be angry too. But it was not Brendel's doing.

By the way, I think Ypsi's a really beautiful town. Very very long ago, I used to own three houses there, including the huge one at the corner of Washington and Washtenaw and the stucco house at the corner of Congress and Normal.

Best wishes,

Judy Rose
Free Press real estate writer
313-222-6614

Hats of to Judy for at least emailing me, but I didn't think I was angry. Was I?

Sadly, instead of saying "we goofed", it is always easier to blame that nameless copy editor or headline writer that screws up the perfectly written story submitted by the reporter. Of course, I never saw a retraction in the newspaper explaining the error or republishing the correct story. Nor did the Free Press fix the online edition. Perhaps the copy editor will join us for lunch as well. It is too bad Brendel can't find the time in her busy schedule to return a phone call or email.

Contacts:

Brendel Patterson patterson@freepress.com or 313-222-8776

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