Critical Race Theory (CRT). The mere mention of this graduate level approach to American history brings immediate reaction from those on either side of what has become the political issue du jour, regardless of whether most understand what this loaded phrase really means.
Certainly it was no surprise after our August edition of Downtown Newsmagazine attempted to educate readers about what is known as CRT, an issue starting to crop up at school board meetings, that emails, phone calls and letters to the editor would arrive as the issue reached homes in the community, as evidenced by the representative sample of letters you will find in our Incoming pages in this issue.
It comes with the territory, I reminded myself after decades of working in the field of journalism. Yes, I have seen it all. From having to go with an unlisted home phone number during political upheaval in a township in the western Oakland lakes area as those opposing change ran a concerted effort of phone harassment during overnight hours, or a union local official barging into the newsroom to threaten a reporter when he did not like our critical coverage of his Democrat candidate for the state House, to a past Democrat Oakland County sheriff posting a department car/officer outside my home each night as subtle harassment in retaliation for coverage of his poor administration. Bomb threats – been there. Threatening phone messages, even here in Birmingham when violence, including guns, became part of the scene at one of the now-closed bars in the downtown area several years ago. The list is endless.
The feedback to our CRT longform piece in the August edition pales in comparison. It does, however, present a perfect opportunity to talk about what goes on behind the scenes here at Downtown Newsmagazine as we plan out issues months in advance.
When we launched our publication 11 years ago, we made as part of our stated policy objective to put out a legitimate monthly newsmagazine that would detail what local officials did on behalf of the citizens who they serve, along with personality profiles, editorial commentary, and the occasional interviews with local and state political leaders to noted figures like Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers fame.
As we state in each monthly issue under the heading of Goals/Mission: We also devote considerable effort each month to address major issues facing local residents through our longform story-telling efforts in an effort to build a community of informed citizens, which is essential for our democracy to function.
Our monthly longform pieces (3,500–5,000 words) start taking shape months in advance of an issue as we observe or anticipate trends developing nationally and internationally that we think will likely have impact closer to home. We exchange information among ourselves on a daily basis from a wide range of publications we all read. A running list of possible topics is maintained and we build lists of sources to consult from around the state, nation and sometimes other countries – those who have top credentials in subject areas we are going to tackle. Once we have determined an issue, we meet every few days to update each other on how a longform story is progressing.
We take great pride in what we have produced – nearly 300 longform stories – especially when we see much larger publications here and around the nation cover the same topics many months after we have moved on to explore other issues.
Over the last decade we have delved into a vast array of topics, among them: changing racial composition of Oakland’s private schools; urban planning trends; increasing suicides; the militia of Michigan; local police policies regulating the use of force; chemical contamination in cosmetics; local government sex assault polices; radon testing in schools; attempts in Canada to bury nuclear waste on the shores of the Great Lakes; dangerous chemical applications in public spaces by local governments; or the policies in Oakland school districts relative to LGBTQ+ students.
At a minimum we would like to think we have fulfilled our mission of providing a factual narrative to local residents, among the highest educated in the state. On occasion we have taken satisfaction that we have been instrumental in changing local policies, especially on the environmental front, one of the special areas of concern when we are doing the longform stories.
Bottom line: Whether it is CRT or any of the topics we explore, ignoring important issues that are arriving on our doorsteps is not a responsible approach.
Do some of the topics make part of our readership uncomfortable – without doubt. We hear from our readers with varying viewpoints most months, something you don’t find in other publications. That tells us two things – Downtown Newsmagazine is being read and we are also fulfilling another goal we set for ourselves – fostering conversation in the community. Keep reading and sharing your viewpoints.
DOWNTOWN NEWSLETTERS: We provide a number of email newsletters, either weekly or monthly, which residents can sign up to receive by going to downtownpublications.com. Our offerings: a Weekly Update newsletter each Friday, which includes the latest government and police beat news; Breaking News when it occurs; Metro Intelligencer, news and gossip from the restaurant industry in metro Detroit; and Oakland Confidential, political gossip presented in a sometimes irreverent style.
During the start of the pandemic, when information was in short supply, we produced The Covid-19 Diary, a daily curation of stories appearing in over three dozen national publications and science journals, which we discontinued in March of this year when we thought the worst was over.
We will be launching a new environmental newsletter in the coming weeks – ThreatenedPlanet.com – issued on a bi-weekly basis. The focus will be the global warming crisis, providing online links to stories curated from a variety of general media newspapers, magazines and environmental newsletters to which we subscribe. You can now sign up on the home page of our website.
VOTER GUIDE: Our October issue will contain a guide to the candidates running for election to the city commission in Birmingham, published in time for those voting by absentee ballot.
HELP WANTED MARKETPLACE: A common complaint we hear from the business community is the inability to find staffing now that life is starting to return to a new normal. So with this issue, we have started offering a Help Wanted Marketplace where businesses can advertise for staffing. We discounted the rates on four sizes of ads to help with the employee search. The ads will appear at the back of each monthly issue – this month on pages 88-89.