Friday, April 30, 2010

Where's the Love? Part II

You may remember last week when an anonymous reader took objection to my fundraising efforts to finance a reporting trip to sunny Flint this summer. If not, I've posted the original complaint below, along with my response. Now Anonymous has chimed in again to elaborate. Here it is...
Just dropped back in to see how the telethon is going. You've raised about 10% of your goal, I see. Let me see if I can help you out a bit with that...

First, if it was so pointless to respond, then why did you bother to spend so much time on, well... a response? Not only that, you then posted my "pointless" comment on your front page in a new post. Ah, that's of no real consequence.

My implication that you are a tourist is clearly vindicated by your effort to raise money to come back to Flint in the first place. But, that implication of "tourism" doesn't matter either.

Second, I've spent time around here. Long nostalgic diatribes about the past does not make for socially relevant material for the future. History is nice but, others before you have done much better work. You better do some reading yourself, my friend. I'm sorry if I offended you and your sycophantic readership who basks in the nostalgic glory of good old "Flinttown." But, the real populous of Flint cares very little about you, your readers, and your work. Not to be mean, just honest.

Third, since we are admonishing each other for assumptions... don't assume that I need to wake up and examine the direction of media. As you think a blog, any blog, is new (or news) media? You think 2007 is ancient in blog terms? I wrote a widely read blog, from Flint, eight years before you and it was essentially irrelevant despite many achievements, being a very early adopter, despite being a well respected and connected blogger, and despite millions of visitors. It's you that does not understand the direction of written online media, not me.

If you understood the demise of print media, you'd have never cited the Flint Journal as an example of the untimely demise of print journalism. They mismanaged themselves at every turn. Imagine a company that spends 30 million dollars on a printing facility, infrastructure, a building, etc... as the entire print world is imploding? Wow. Yeah, those reporters should be very angry. Don't think I blame writers... they just write. No matter, no one is reading any newspaper. Period. If you think what you are doing here is 1). Journalism. 2). Potentially profitable. and 3). Innovative... you're the one who should examine the world of the written journalistic word. Not me.

Which brings me to the fourth point, $5,000.00 for six months is more than some families earn here in Flint. That is, to be able to work a minimum wage job, for the minimum amount of hours, for no benefits, etc... How does your great journalistic mind deserve even $5.00 to examine a culture where the average income is many thousands less than the nationally acknowledged level of poverty? That isn't just exploitative, it's gosh and rude. Besides, if you work, why beg for a dime? Foot the bill for yourself, do your work, write your... whatever it is... and shut up about needing money! In fact, what is this great work you've conceived of? I see no synopsis, no treatment, not even a half-baked proposal. Last I checked, a proposition for investors needed at least an explanation of how the funds will be utilized.

Finally, I respect and admire your Flint and family heritage. I admit my mistake in assuming that you were a suburb kid (like others) who look to Flint to exploit it, but do no real good for the thousands and thousands suffering here, except only to promote themselves.

While you may not be exploiting it, you will not do any real good either... Which is exactly why anyone who either gives money to you or, will give money to you is clearly very, very stupid.

Ex-pats are as such: expat (n) - exile, expatriate: a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country. You gave up your Flint citizenship.... don't bother coming back, we still don't need you.

Um, apology accepted. I guess.

I know I probably shouldn't, but I'm starting to like Anonymous. His or her comment got me wondering just where my readers are coming from since the blog was originally intended primarily for former Flintoids — hence the name — who far outnumber current Flint residents. So I did a little checking and found that of the 97,304 unique visitors to Flint Expatriates since December 2007, the biggest percentage (9.05 %) actually come from dear old Flint. Next is Grand Blanc (2.9%), followed by Chicago (2.81%). Alas, still just one lone visitor from the poetically named
Freiburg Im Breisgau in Germany (0.0%)

If you're interested, here's the original post from April 19:

My younger friends warned me about the dangers of asking people to pay even a small amount for something they're used to getting for free on the internet. But I guess I didn't expect this when I launched the Flint Reporting Project:

Let me get this straight. You live and presumably work(ed) in SF. You come back here, from time to time, to visit the "folks," likely in the suburbs... Linden, Fenton perhaps.... You are a print journalist desperate to get anything you write to stick. You figure with all of the fires and negative attention, it's about time you "went back into the field."

You now make this dramatic and gigantic announcement about this "mission" and have the audacity to beg for money to finance this adventure of yours?

Fine, to each his own, but remember this:

Flint is not a walk-thru zoo for the contemplation of the enlightened. To raise money for this endeavor is arrogant and selfish. There is real suffering here, not career anxiety. There is real pain here, not just jealousy of people who can land paying gigs. There is real misery here, not the kind that comes from fretting over your Latte at Caffe Trieste.

Do us a favor and stay out there in SF. Flint doesn't need you. Your latte does.

I'm sensing that anonymous won't be making a donation. Here's my response:

Anonymous, I sense it’s really pointless to respond to your comment. You clearly haven’t read very much of Flint Expatriates or my other work on Flint. (The blog started in October 2007, well before the recent fires.) But I’ll give this a shot anyway.

My grandparents moved to Flint around 1925 when they were in their early twenties and lived there the rest of their lives, most of the time on Illinois Avenue. My mom grew up in Flint and spent most of her life there. I lived in Flint until I was about 22. No offense to the good citizens of Linden, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never knowingly been there. I’ve been to Fenton about five times in my life, once for a St. Mary’s football game against St. John Fenton. So forgive me if I’m a little offended when you imply that I’m some sort of tourist. Having lived through a lot of it, I know all about the misery in Flint.

While there’s no doubt I’d love to be writing for Vanity Fair at $4/word, I don’t think I have what you describe as “career anxiety.” I recently wrote about Flint for Slate and The New York Times, so I feel like I’m doing okay as far as that goes. Besides, a money losing reporting trip to Flint is not exactly the way to bolster your journalism career. By the way, I have a full time job, in addition to freelancing. And I write this blog in my spare time. So, again, I’m a little offended at the implication that I’m some sort of loafer.

You should take a look at the journalism world before you try to denigrate reporters for trying to figure out alternative ways to cover topics they care about. The future of journalism does not appear to be the old model of media companies spending lavishly to cover the news and paying for it with display advertising. Just ask some of the Flint Journal reporters how well this model is working. And $5,000 for six months of work seems pretty reasonable. Your implication that I’m getting rich while going on an “adventure” is pretty ridiculous.

By the way, I prefer Cafe Roma but I don’t get to North Beach much.


  1. Wow, you have younger friends? Impressive! :D

    As long as you cover some positive aspects of Flint, and aren't doing anything like "Requiem for Detroit", I'd be happy to donate, just not this month. :s

  2. Well, maybe they're just humoring me.

  3. Fascinating. The lack of understanding that coverage by someone with your perspective might contribute to the alleviation of the referenced suffering is, well, not surprising, but unfortunate. If I'm from Flint I'd figure the more press the better. Would he rather the suffering he mentions remain hidden?

    Regardless, my latte is getting cold so I should stop typing. Count me in for $25... $20 from me and $5 on behalf of your new friend.

  4. I don't think this guy appreciates the suffering one goes through to find a parking place in North Beach ... then wait in line ... for a latte at Caffe Trieste ...

  5. Hi Gordon,
    you make it back here, I'd like to invite you up to Petoskey. I'll buy ya a Latte. Plenty of people up here originally from Flint that would like to share their stories about why they left, and why they still love their hometown.


  6. "fretting over your Latte at Caffe Trieste."

    I suspect this wasn't written by someone living on Fleming Rd.

  7. I'll pledge $50 if you can get a picture of you and 'Anonymous' having a Latte

  8. Yeah, I was wondering about the very precise SF reference.

    And Jim, I'll hold you to your promise if I live to collect.

  9. Jeremy,

    Sounds inviting, man. Let's stay in touch and figure it out.

  10. Well, Gordon, you've now really worked yourself into a sticky situation.

    On top of everything else you're trying to tackle, you now have to square your desire to be a professional journalist with Grumkin making his contribution contingent on you covering "some positive aspects of Flint!"

    Don't get me wrong, I love Flint, and you don't get much more "Flint" than me. I grew up there, lived there for nearly 35 years, and worked at both Buick and The Flint Journal.

    What I don't get, though, is why so many people I know think that positive thinking and happy talk are going to solve Flint's monumental problems.

    They won't, and nothing will short of the next "really big thing" that suddenly lands in Flint. By "really big thing", I mean something on the order of aviation, computers/information technology, or yes, the automobile. Of these, the automobile was by far the biggest, and the chance of lightning striking twice in Flint are long odds indeed!

    Let's not kid ourselves, folks. Flint went through the largest and most rapid expansion of any community _ever_ in the first 25 years of the last century, and the industry that drove that is gone from the area forever. It is therefore now time to have Flint shrink to a size and configuration that is suitable for current circumstances, and a makes for a decent place to live for those who wish to remain.

  11. I figure I can always cover the positive angle with a post on Halo Burger. That's sort of cheating, I know. I was just talking to an urban planner who emphasized that the "recovery" for most rust belt cities with be incremental and play out over a long time span. And they probably won't ever "recover" enough to be what they once were, at least not anytime soon.

  12. I much prefer realistic journalism (if that's not too much of an oxymoron these days), so that's why I mentioned that there be some positive aspects. Because we all know that there are people in Flint who work to make it better, and I think it only fair to include them.

    I think the original Anonymous post cited above was concerned that "Gordie the carpet bagger" was going to come into Flint, latte in hand, feet up, and mac on the lap to make an artey film on ruin porn. I can see their point, just not big on their delivery of it.

    I'm all for journalism if it's open minded and not slanted.

    Good luck Chekhov.

  13. Yes, there are definitely great stories in Flint about residents working to improve the city. That's one of the things that's compelling about Flint. The story of Flint's demise has been told so many times already, but it still has to be an element of any coverage of the city. It just doesn't have to be the only element.

  14. Remember a few posts back about the holier-than-thou attitude of folks from Grand Rapids and West Michigan? Well, Gordy, you just got yourself a big plate full of the "I enjoy being a martyr" attitude of Flint and East Michigan. Gotta say, I don't miss it.

  15. Hi John,
    What's weird is that I know there are reporters out there who have written about Flint in a sort of lazy, uninformed way. I could see how that would make Flint residents, and former residents, pretty angry. So I can understand Anonymous's attitude. It's just that the entire point of the blog and my coverage has been NOT to do that. I've tried to cover Flint in a very realistic way and actually spend as much time there as possible, talking to as many people as possible. At this point, I'm going to assume it was just a case of him or her not reading my coverage.

  16. What's with the aura of anti-intellectualism? I know Flint is a blue collar town that is proud of its history, culture, and character, but why the need to bash any sort of intelligent coverage or discourse in regard to a city in need.

    Don't let the original anonymous commenter get to you. You're doing fantastic work, Gordon!

  17. Let's see Gordo...

    There are the Hawaiin Islands, Bora Bora, Las Vegas etc. Hmm. I have month to kill. I know, toxic waste, urban decay, racial strife! That's what I'm looking for but can I get there?

  18. Though I'm now complicit in your project by being part of your summer support system, I'm with those who hope you won't give up on your project, Gordie. And I'm wearily impatient with the anti-elitism and defensiveness that flavors the first "anonymous" comment. Coming off a semester during which I thought my first-year writing students were among the least literate and most uninterested in critical thinking in my 17 years of college teaching, I think we seriously need clear-eyed, clear-headed analysts among us. The more, the better. And whether we like it or not, what's happened in our town, and continues to be happening, is symptomatic of larger issues and thus of significance beyond our parochialism and petulance.

  19. Holy smokes--I can't believe I missed all this drama in the last couple of days! Gordie has done an amazing job keeping all of our memories alive.
    I think since I tuned in to Expats two years ago, there has been almost a daily post. Any contribution I have made is to support the blog and keep it going. Frankly, I would be happy with a coffee table book but you go do what you have to do Gordie.

  20. Could there be a post about how UofM Flint has the highest growth rate of any university in the state?

  21. Hi Rob, I posted something on UM-Flint's growth on April 13. Check it out:

  22. Huh... (that's a statement, not a question)

    If that's the majority of thinking in Flint, that explains ALOT.

    I can understand getting cynical about pie-eyed people coming in and thinking "let's fix this" with a bit of paint and spackle or whatever. I certainly know of many businesses that failed in Flint that would have succeeded elsewhere. So hopes diminishing makes sense.

    But I'm not sure I get their fourth point. Why does anonymous really care that you are asking for money? How can they be offended by that? So what that there are people making less... you aren't asking those people for money. I just don't really get it. Why do they think you are "examining a culture"... what is that?

    Sounds like someone just hates you Gordie. And you're right, that is something to admire. ;) Any PR is good PR... my guess is you'll be getting more donations this way. So whatever comes out of this 5K, maybe you should dedicate it to Anonymous.

  23. Anonymous- as in the anonymous reader that wrote a blog with millions of visitors...prove it...provide a link. No way that happened and then you just pulled it all down. Give us something, even some screen shots. I've got a feeling you had a geocities account at best. So yeah, give us something. Millions of visitors should of generated you significant ad revenue. Maybe you can donate a bit or perhaps tell us all how you managed that, in 1999.

  24. First off, Gordon, keep up the great work. Your blog is very much apreciated. Now for our friend. Even though I have not lived in Flint in 32 years I was born and raised on the north side and still have family there. You are no more a Flintoid than I am even though you currently reside there and I do not. I can understand the frustration of living there now but dont demean others and their intentions simply because they are former residents. It is a measure of our love and attatchment to Flint that keeps us coming to Flint ExPats. Lanny Hayes

  25. Understanding both the history of Flint, and what is going on now in Flint, may help with the future of Flint, or other communities where we live. I live near a community that is going through some of the similar issues Flint did with GM, and I'm interested to know what worked for Flint, and what didn't. Of course, the city here rejected my AutoWorld 2 idea, dang! I love this site and the posts, because I loved growing up IN Flint. The Flint I grew up in was a fantastic community with endless opportunities, and a great place for families. I left because that was no longer true, and I saw better opportunities elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with soliciting for additional journalistic work on Flint. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with loving the Flint that was, learning what Flint is now, and understanding what Flint can become. If people don't want to donate, don't. Just please don't lecture me about what a "real" flintoid is. Thank you for your time.
    Bill Weber

  26. ECHO....The Flint I grew up in was a fantastic community with endless opportunities,and a great place to raise kids and work steadily. I left because that was no longer true.That was thirty three years ago and I did look back, but with tears in my eyes. Today, I know it was the best move I ever made because I recaptured the past with all of those same elements. It seems to only get better except for the memories of what Flint could and should have been. I'm too old to be lectured by some unknown hate monger hiding behind his keyboard. Sorry for the plagiarism Bill. I needed a spring board.

  27. "Hiding behind the keyboard," you said it, unclebuck. And please, Gordie, keep at it; it's a story that badly needs to be written and a story the degree of interest in which will surprise us all. Wish I could be there this summer to support you with food & drink(s) - in addition to the donation that's coming, but I can't get there until September. By the way, it sounds like the infamous "anonymous" has a supersized chip on his or her shoulder for who knows what reason. Don't let it deter you, let it inspire you. Cheers from Maureen, a long-time north-side-of-Flint-expat overseas.

  28. Well, based on the quality of your writing verses that of Anonymous, I'm going to send you some money for this project. Big points for not starting a sentence with "Not to be mean,...."

    Yours sycophantically,

  29. Anonymous sounds jealous...He/she justs bashes Gordon and doesn't come up with any of their OWN ideas to help Flint. Gordon, you are doing a great job and I appreciate what you are doing!



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