Friday, December 7, 2007

The Flint Journal has its moments

I was never a huge fan of The Flint Journal when I was growing up. When I wrote a research paper in grad school on the Journal's coverage of the Flint Sit-Down Strike, I was ashamed to discover the hometown rag wasn't just boring, it had a long history of carrying water for GM. Great newspapers don't toady up to the most powerful business in town. They do just the opposite.

Having said that, Journal columnist Andrew Heller is a must-read for anyone hoping to keep tabs on the city. He's been on the job for 18 years, and he clearly revels in "getting paid to be crabby." He's sort of like Flint's version of Mitch Albom, minus the smarmy platitudes, smug self-assurance, saccharin writing style, and massive bank account. Heller is often funny and insightful, particularly when it comes to his coverage of Flint's Mayor Don "The Don" Williamson. A brief example in the lead up to the recent election:

"Flint, do you know where your Don is? Honest to gosh, where's he been? I see his campaign signs everywhere, so I know he's out there, but other than that, you'd hardly know an election was nigh. This last month is supposed to be the silly season. Where's the Don's customary announcement of some bizarro project that will turn Flint around -- like, say, turning Genesee Towers into the world's biggest haunted house or making the former Forest Park into a hunting preserve?"
And he seems to elicit some very entertaining responses to his work from the public, like this recent missive from Thorgrimm44 reflecting on Williamson's reelection.

"All I know is the sooner I can get out of this nutty town the better. I hate it here. There is no reason to stay and putting this nut back in office is just another example of how low the IQ in this town has gone...You are also correct in saying its going to be a wild ride. God help this city if that goofball gets to re-write the city charter. Next the money will Don we trust...I could go on but I have packing to do."

Indeed, Heller's greatest accomplishment may be putting in print what scores of civic boosters have been unwilling to admit about Flint, an admission that's really the first step in ultimately transforming the place into something better:

Yes, we have a bad image. But it's not an undeserved image. To the contrary, it's very deserved, through little fault of our own.

is ground zero. A nuclear bomb of economic change landed smack upon our formerly fair city. Manufacturing jobs, as they have all over the country, were vaporized in the blast. Nothing new has replaced them.

As a result, we lead the league in a whole host of social ills. Poverty, drug use, crime, obesity, joblessness. You name it.

What's worse is there's little we can do about many of our troubles. Move Toyota or Honda in here, sure, we'd improve quickly. Poverty would drop, crime would fall and so on. But that's not bloody likely to happen, now is it?

Good people don't want to hear it, and smart people should never believe it, but it's true: Our problems aren't going away. Barring a miracle, the Flint you have now is largely the Flint you'll have five years from now.

1 comment:

  1. I last saw The Don dining at Luigi's. He was there for ZAP lunch and they rolled out an office chair for him. Patsy Lou and a guest sat on a standard fare chair. I guess the mayor can't be burdened to use the common man's chairs.

    Quite a gentleman as I recall. He was talking, rather loudly, about someone being an 'asshole'. Classy.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at