LeDuff is as much a character as anyone in his copy. Near the book’s end, he recounts how he quit The Detroit News, over what he says were changes made to a story about a “lazy judge” who freed a career criminal. The guy later killed a cop. The situation triggers an indictment of the newspaper business:
I called my buddy the janitor and had him bring a trash can on wheels up to the newsroom. When he did, I swept the entire contents of my desktop into the garbage can and walked out.” He writes that “American newspapers were yellow and stale before they came off the press. Dog-beaten by a dwindling readership, financial losses and partisan attacks, editors had stripped them of their personality in an attempt to offend no one. And so there was no more reason to read them. Safety before Truth. Grammar over Guts. Winners before Losers.
It’s a vivid story, and I’m sure it’s true, but I know LeDuff was also interested in television as a medium for his journalism. His frustration over the judge story was the last straw for a reporter looking to talk to a bigger audience. And it’s no secret that The Detroit News is the No. 2 newspaper in the city; hundreds of thousands of subscribers have abandoned it, and budget cuts have made the newsroom a ghost town. The stories he once told on paper are now told on Fox 2, which has featured him more and more as a brand and star in the past couple of years.
As for Detroit, it works. No one book can tell the entire story of the city, and there’s no right way to do it. This is one way to tell that story, and it could be done only by someone consciously embedded not only in the city, but in their own family and their own life. LeDuff is unafraid to mine his personal history for broadly identifiable examples of Detroit’s larger plight. Who in Detroit hasn’t had a relative that lost a good career and ended up in a dead-end job? Or hasn’t been touched in some way by the booze and drugs that some people use to escape the grim realities of the Motor City? There may be other reporters here who have such stories, and have worked all the beats and can write better prose, but only LeDuff, flaws and all, has had the balls to write Detroit.