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Aug 05

Keith Owens Named Sr. Editor of the Michigan Chronicle

keithI can’t imagine a better time to be senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle.

I’ve been a journalist for nearly 30 years, working as a reporter, editorial writer, columnist, and blogger. In Detroit, where I have spent the past 22 years of my life, I have worked for the Detroit Free Press on the editorial board and as an op-ed columnist (prior to the strike), written a bi-weekly column for the Metro Times, won a few journalism awards. worked as a freelance writer, wrote and published four fiction and nonfiction books, and served as editor for both the now-defunct Michigan FrontPage and the Michigan Chronicle before taking a five-year detour from journalism as Director of the Office of Communications for the Office of the Wayne County Treasurer. Aside from my years as a professional musician, which I have been for even longer than I’ve been a journalist, that was the only non-journalism job I ever held during my professional career.

Well, OK, there were also those three years I slung boxes for UPS not long after the Detroit Newspaper Strike began. So yes, there was that.

But here’s the point of all this: I’ve had what I would call the sharp-edged privilege of having experienced my adopted home of Detroit from a wide variety of angles and perspectives. I don’t love Detroit just in the abstract, or because it looks good on a T-shirt,or because it is now the popular thing to say. When I moved here in 1993, saying you loved Detroit – especially if you were originally from Denver – was most assuredly not the popular thing to say. It was considered a trace of certifiable madness. But I loved Detroit from the minute I got off that plane in January of 1993, when I left a 70-degree Fort Lauderdale, where I had been working for the Sun Sentinel, to move to a 7-degree Detroit and join the staff of the Detroit Free Press (true story). And I still love Detroit today. So yeah, I’m one of those kind of Detroiters. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves and draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, while you’re doing that, I feel like I need to say again that this couldn’t be a more perfect time to have a job like this. Ever since I moved to this city I have been hearing about this Detroit Renaissance that would be here any day now. Just wait. It’s coming. No, really. Honest. Wait for it… But it never came…

Until now. For better and/or for worse (much remains to be seen), that Renaissance that Detroiters have been hearing so much about – and bitterly laughing about for years as the worst kind of inside joke – is at the front door and knocking with a sledge hammer. Blight removal is now actually happening, and it’s happening fast. And there’s actually new construction – in Detroit! That side of town we used to know as the Cass Corridor is now called Midtown and, well, let’s just agree that it’s a bit different from what we remember. And then there’s downtown, and the M-1 rail line, and there’s white people all over the place (seems like) talking about how cool Detroit is and they’re filling up all these clubs and coffee houses and yoga studios and …

And then there’s the rest of Detroit. In so many ways same as it ever was; still tough as a room full of pitbulls, still mostly black, still mostly poor, and still very much struggling and wondering how much longer we’re going to have to live like this. How much longer will the schools be like this? How much longer will all this violence continue? When will the buses ever run on time? When do we get our New Detroit?

But Detroit is still all one city. All of it. From the yoga studios and the chic coffee houses to the ‘hood. From Palmer Woods and Indian Village to Mack and Bewick and all of Southwest. As Detroit continues to grow, it needs to grow into a size that fits all of us comfortably and meets all of our needs.

 

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And so the challenge for the Michigan Chronicle, as we move forward toward this New Detroit, wherever it’s headed, is to not simply report on the journey but to actively – sometimes aggressively – participate in it. Grab that steering wheel and yank it hard. Because the history of the Michigan Chronicle, and the history of the Black press, is not a history of standing on the sidelines, nor is it a history of impartiality. Because as Ida B. Wells made clear more than a century ago as one of the shapers/founders/creators of the Black press, it’s kinda hard to be impartial about things like lynching when your own people are the ones getting lynched.

The history of the Black press is a history of breathing air into the lungs of a community to create one loud voice comprised of so many that could not be heard any other way. The history of the Black press – and of the Michigan Chronicle – is a history of community uplift.

The future of the Michigan Chronicle will always include community uplift, with an expanded definition of both “community” and “uplift”. The future of the Michigan Chronicle is not only as the Black community newspaper of Detroit, but as Detroit’s community newspaper. See the difference? And also by the way, in keeping with where the future is headed, expect to see the Chronicle shed the terms ‘weekly’ and ‘paper’ as it continues to shift direction toward a more timely digital-first news and information delivery service.

And I get to be the editor while all this happens? No job should ever be allowed to be this much fun. Seriously. There ought to be a law.

But there isn’t a law against it, so stay tuned…

 

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