Matt Labash profiles Detroit (“the city where the sirens never sleep”) for the Weekly Standard, a profile in which Charlie LeDuff, formerly of the New York Times, now a metro reporter for The Detroit News, plays a starring role. “For me,” writes Labash, “Detroit has become synonymous with one man: Charlie LeDuff.”
One night over dinner, Charlie admits that he knows most people think he’s gone back to a dying newspaper in a dying town. But he feels he has work to do here. Not the kind of work that makes Gawker. Real work. He’s always wanted to write about “my people,” as he calls them—Detroiters in the hole—but he wasn’t ready before. Now he is. He sneers at books like Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? which treat human beings like electoral blocs to be extrapolated from…
He says there has to be room for the kind of journalism “where it’s not a fetish, where it’s not blaxploitation, where you are actually a human being with a point of view. The city is full of good people, living next to s—.” But most media-types don’t bother to ask since they view those people as “dumb, uneducated, toothless rednecks. They’re ghetto-dwelling blacks. Right? They’re poor Mexicans. They’re a concept, not a people.”
Regardless of media-industry misfortunes, work lies before him. “God gave me something to do, and I’m not turning my back on it. I’m trying really hard. Maybe I’m not great. I’m always nervous, never sure if it’s any good. But I’m just trying. What’s wrong with trying?”
Despite the monumentally low morale in journalism at the moment (Gannett whacked 2,000 jobs the week I was in Detroit, and the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy), Charlie believes in reinvention through a simple mantra: “Don’t be boring.”Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.