— Pan in on abandoned, decaying home in dying Midwest city.
Let’s call the city “Town D.”
— Have narrator with insanely self-important reporter voice say something about how crusty, rusty Town D once was awesome.
Find an expert to call that town terrible and left behind.
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— Show some citizens looking serious or sad. (It will look better if you cut them out and put their image against a white background).
— Make sure to get lots of images of abandoned streets and people walking around in hopelessness and/or despair.
— Capture lots of staring.
— Ignore most signs of culture, growth or resilience you find. Note: You are going to have to spend four or five minutes sort of talking about some positive stuff about Town D.
— Add in some drone footage here and there for that wow effect. Judges like that sort of new thing.
—Sprinkle in some talking heads and well-meaning citizens, advocates and politicians.
— Find examples to back up the generalizations formed before you left the office.
— Add more abandoned buildings, comments from insanely self-important segments from the narrator, and you’ve got yourself a documentary.
Finish it up by restating that Town D sucks and is doomed.
Town D, in this case, is Dayton.
I am sure you knew that even though Town D could be any number of Midwest and/or flyover state towns.
Dayton is the subject of a new Frontline/ProPublica documentary that aired Tuesday about cities that have failed to bounce back since the recession.
The show’s title, “Left Behind America,” was an indication that the depiction of life here was not going to be favorable.
Based on the previous national coverage, it was clear that the positive things happening and brewing in this community would not be mentioned.
They fly into town and do hit-and-run pieces, talking to people in coffee diners and swinging by soup kitchens.
Before coming here though, they’ve already assumed they have enough info to tell the complicated story about life here.
FRONTLINE, like a long list of national newspapers and TV shows, focused on the speck in our eye to justify the plank in their own.
After the point, you have to wonder if the point of it is some sort of perverse reinforcement of stereotypes perpetrated by a hit squad with cameras.
The point is certainly not to help or shine a new light.
Nothing new is learned. It’s all been reported.
We know. We know. We know.
—There is a significant poverty issue here.
— There is an ongoing racial divide.
— The Miami Valley has been hit hard by the opioid crisis.
— NCR left Dayton in 2009, leaving a major hole.
— The city and those that surround it was hit hard by the great recession.
What Frontline and reports like it failed to do was to tell the other side of the story in any way.
You know the side that isn’t a death sentence.
It is the story that says people in towns like Dayton actually want to live in towns like Dayton and are actually trying to make towns like Dayton better.
We love our Midwest home.
We don’t all want to live on the coast and drive for two hours to get somewhere that’s a half-hour away.
Why should Frontline/ ProPublica want a complete story?
It does not fit the narrative sketched on a storyboard before the documentary team stepped over the problems outside their front doors in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.
The fact is that people are addressing the challenges this community faces in unique ways that do in fact have legs.
Those efforts like the Gem City Market’s push to address the food desert with a co-op grocery store were glanced over if mentioned at all.
“The market will be called Gem City, an old nickname from Dayton’s better days,” the narrator says.
The small businesses and growth of downtown lasted a few seconds.
The research being done here was barely mentioned.
The narrator tells us that a new black chamber of commerce met at a downtown coffee shop and showed a few seconds of footage.
Did the producers stop long enough to figure out that the shop is Third Perk Coffeehouse and Wine Bar?
Before deciding Dayton is dead, did they stop and talk to the members of the new chamber of commerce?
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