In a tough economic climate where some of the candidates running for office in the November general election can’t seem to explain their positions clearly on the issues they are running on, its hard to decipher which candidates really have an understanding of the precarious state of Michigan, and are ready to go to work.
And often, the media, which is supposed to be that space between the people and government, misses the point of holding candidates accountable for their platforms.
J. Mikel Ellcessor, general manager of WDET, Detroit Public Radio (101.9 FM- NPR Affiliate), said that’s because there has been, to some degree, a bit of a predatory relationship from the media to the media consumer, where they’ve been served up lot of “salacious stuff” that doesn’t really matter to the average person’s life and only keeps them distracted.
“I think that years after serving up Kwamegate to people, and distracting them with all kinds of related sideshows, and years of partisan bickering, over there too much/too little union influences in our lives, it’s kept people distracted from the real issues that they want to dig in on now, which are the health and well-being of our children, the security and stability of our families,” he said.
A radio veteran, Ellcessor said that questions of how to be spiritually whole as a community are what preoccupy people, not “the kinds of petty sideshows that really matter the most to small groups of people.”
In our current environment of political rancor and “get it first, no matter what” attitudes by some in the media, Ellcessor said there are a couple of important object lessons the media can take away from the Shirley Sherrod imbroglio.
“One is nobody will be hurt by stopping, taking a breath, and asking really asking what is the source of this story,” he said. “Andrew Breitbart is a known provocateur that consistently animates his stories along race lines.
“Two (for the media consumer), when your media makes the mistake, engage with your media and let them know you’re watching and you’re paying attention.”
He said there has to be responsibility on both sides. The news media has to look at things more carefully; and the consumer has to re-engage with the media and let them know they’re watching and expecting better.
He also said media consumers shouldn’t accept “trite false equivalencies.”
“Don’t let people shrug it off with that,” he said. “Andrew Breitbart fabricated a story, and passed it, like a virus, into our culture. There needs to be accountability across the entire spectrum on that, and I think it’s really on consumers to step up and become vocal with their media and to say we want better.”
Ellcessor’s principal goal when he came to Detroit in late 2008 was to revitalize WDET’s relationship with the community. He said the station’s credibility diminished because it had executed a lot of schedule changes over the years that pulled it further away from issues close to the heart of people in Southeast Michigan. He’s focused on reorienting the station toward a very natural authentic local voice, even with the national programming it carries.
He cited the recently added Michael Eric Dyson Show, which premiered Aug. 2, at 1 p.m.; “Tell Me More,” “The Takeaway” and the locally-produced Craig Fahle Show.
Ellcesor said Dyson, a Detroiter, is “out of his mind excited” about being on the air here.
He also said the people from Tell Me More and The Takeaway hear from Detroiters a lot.
“They really feel the presence of the Detroit community, because people here are not quiet,” Ellcessor said. “They speak up. They’ve got a really interesting point of view. That’s what we’re looking for, shows that welcome that.”
WDET News Director Jerome Vaughn cohosted “The Takeaway” for a week when the program first aired on WDET, and former WDET staffer Celeste Headlee is a co-host.
“It’s the exact opposite of what a lot of folks have observed about the way the national media relates to Detroit,” he said. “We’re specifically finding partners. We don’t just put a show on the air. We want to find these producers and these hosts who really want to be partners with WDET and with people here in Southeast Michigan.”
Ellcessor said Vaughn co-hosted that week because the producers of “The Takeaway” wanted to kick off their relationship with Detroit in a strong way.
WDET also recently joined American Public Media’s Insight Network. Ellcessor said that’s already made a difference, because WDET has been able to reinforce its message that the station is a place to enable more voices to be heard in the media.
“By opting in to the network, people say that they have a unique expertise, they have a point of view that can add something. And then they volunteer themselves out,” he said.
Ellcessor added that whether it’s participating in a public insight query, or using texting and other technologies to provide information on unregulated trucking in Southwest Detroit, the average person helps contribute to the story.
He also said WDET has oriented itself around the basic idea that there’s a deep wisdom embedded in the community, whether it’s the actual idea for story itself or the way it covers the story.
“It’ll be changed and improved if we have more voices from a wider cross section of the community involved,” he said, adding that a resident and/or business owner in Southwest Detroit, who’s raising a family in that neighborhood, feels the passing of the trucks, and knows of kids in the neighborhood with negative health effects because of the unregulated trucking, has a legitimate view into that story.
As to the Shirley Sherrod incident, Ellcessor does not believe either the media or the Obama administration learned its lesson. He believes something like this could “absolutely” happen again.
“That’s why we have to go on record and say this is what to expect going forward,” he said.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Ellcessor came to Detroit in part because his wife’s family is from the area, and the move supported what they wanted to do as a family.
He said the values of non-commercial radio that WDET holds dear can make an enormous difference in all of Southeast Michigan.
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