"Now is the time to let go of some of those preconceived notions about Detroit," mayoral appointee Aaron Foley recently told students in Birmingham and scholars in Gainesville, Fla.
His presentations -- enlivened with slides, anecdotes and humor -- were dress rehearsals for one Tuesday afternoon at the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin.
Foley, an author and former journalist, flew south Sunday to give a 20-minute talk in a Four Seasons Hotel ballroom titled "Detroit: Now Is the Time." It's part of a Cities Summit segment at the four-day event. The video below shows a 12-minute version delivered last month at a University of Florida campus.
The 33-year-old city media department manager, whose imaginative job title is "chief storyteller," oversees content at TheNeighborhoods.org. His team also contributes, impressively, to Channel 21, one of the city's four public access cable channels.
His 2018 road shows explain the innovative role of a municipal editor and address what he calls "the P-word" -- the belief that government-provided information amounts to propaganda. ("Get to know the city of Detroit's propaganda arm," says a January headline in Metro Times.)
"I work for the government. I do news for the government," Foley tells the Florida audience in his Feb. 8 appearance, acknowledging reactions such as: "You're just trying to spin the Detroit story, you're just trying to conceal what's going on in Detroit."
The newsman who's now a municipal narrator defines his role this way:
"We're trying to help our communities learn more about each other. . . . We're trying to flourish the city's narrative, not control the city's narrative. . . .
"What I try to do is fill in some of our news coverage gaps so we learn more about each other as a community. . . . [about] what's going on in the neighborhoods. . . . We write stories about people in Detroit. None of these people have a platform. . . .
"We want to talk about some of the things the city is doing outside of downtown. . . . Most importantly, I just want to show the people I grew up with [in Russell Woods], the people in my neighborhood, the people in the marching band, the people at the roller rink. . . . Everybody has a story . . .
"We believe . . . now is the time to learn more about Detroit, to give Detroit a second chance. . . . Now is the time to make Detroit's story heard."
Here's more of what SXSW attendees will hear this week: