Monday, July 29, 2013

Actively seeking stories: Metro Detroit’s Interfaith Community Partners with Detroit Public Television to Foster a Post-Competitive Era of Cooperation

In southeastern Michigan’s interfaith and intercultural community, the communications model is one of collaboration and information-sharing, rather than of competition and racing to push content out faster than one another.

The fact that, Your People LLC, the Interfaith Leadership Council (IFLC), Detroit Public Television, and other local organizations are doing well is a good indicator that this is a sustainable and effective business model, rather than one with no hope of surviving amid speed- and competition-based mainstream communication corporations.

At the July 26 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC), we learned about another major partner of the interfaith community: public broadcasting.

MPC meetings are held at a different place of local religious and / or cultural significance each time, and for this month the Wixom headquarters of Detroit Public Television (DPTV) was chosen.

Our hosts were DPTV President and CEO Rich Homberg, Senior Vice President Georgeann Herbert, and Project Manager Ruth Kaleniecki. Homberg described for us the mission of DPTV, how it operates, and its significance to the Metro Detroit interfaith and intercultural community. The goal of DPTV is to “Bring the world to Detroit,” as Homberg said, “and translate it for you.”

Though DPTV doesn’t have journalists who report the news first-hand as it happens, the station strives to have local programming—and such national shows as the PBS Newshour—help viewers make sense of and understand the context of events and controversies by taking more time and sharing more information than is possible in mainstream news media outlets. DPTV seeks to find where the holes are, as Homberg put it, and provide useful content that helps people get a well-rounded view of current events and issues.

DPTV is a valuable asset to the interfaith community by broadcasting content of interest to the community, content which is almost or completely unavailable on mainstream broadcast channels. DPTV has aired several informative and insightful documentaries, both local and purchased from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), on a variety of contemporary and historical cultural and religious topics, one of the most notable examples being the God in America series.

Like, DPTV is also very timely with its delivery of such content. In the current political climate, the religion of Islam is surrounded by controversy and associated with large-scale violence; DPTV picked up a three-part documentary on the life of Prophet Muhammad, scheduled to air on August 20. The documentary, which is already available on YouTube, explores Muhammad’s history, Islam’s impact on the world, and the debate regarding Islam’s benefit to the modern world. Other highlights of upcoming programming include a documentary series on Latino-Americans airing in September and October, and a series on Arab-Americans., an online magazine and book publisher, partners with DPTV by providing coverage of DPTV programs and initiatives, as well as by being a valuable online resource for DPTV’s information-vetting process.

“Ten years ago, DPTV would have seen Read the Spirit as a competitor,” Homberg said. “But now it’s more about what we can share.” DPTV reaches out to the interfaith community frequently to assist in vetting cultural and religious content for accuracy and sensitivity to the target communities.

“Interfaith groups are very powerful in society,” Homberg said. DPTV has a database with contact information for a few thousand regional interfaith leaders, a list Homberg never hesitates to refer to when he needs more information about a topic DPTV is considering covering. DPTV recently partnered directly with the IFLC for an initiative called Pre-School U. This program is a grant-funded initiative providing outreach to specific communities the IFLC indicated as academically at-risk.

In addition to filming shows at the Riley Broadcast Center in Wixom, DPTV also accepts content from local filmmakers. As mentioned above, the station carefully vets its content for accuracy, and to assure the context is “non-profit, non-commercial, non-competitive, public media.” The station makes sure to “know how it got there, who touched it, and what motivated it,” Homberg explained. The recent documentary titled Beyond the Light Switch, exploring the future of electricity, is an example of this: The film was funded publicly, not by energy companies, and was intended to present rather than promote the various sustainable energy options being debated.

DPTV has actually turned down some submissions, because it wasn’t able to verify enough information about the film’s makers, context, and the motivation behind its creation.

The five emphases of DPTV, Georgeann Herbert elaborated, are children and education (which also includes community and adult education), health, leadership and public affairs, energy and environment, and arts and culture. The station provides a variety of local programs addressing these topics, as well as the shows it purchases from PBS.

DPTV has recently increased its focus on the Great Lakes area. Great Lakes Now is a series focusing on environmental stewardship. On August 13, channel 56.2 (DPTV Plus, which re-airs much of the content from the main channel at different times) will feature a two-hour panel discussion about environmental stewardship (investing in nature) to help provide a balanced perspective in response to all the hype about technology and venture capitalism, which are touted by the mainstream media as the keys to the future. Detroit Performs is a new program about local artists, how they have gotten where they are, and their creative processes. DPTV is “actively seeking stories from the community” for upcoming episodes, Herbert said. Under the Radar Michigan is a show highlighting some great local travel destinations that are unique to Michigan.

After exploring the link between Detroit Public Television and the Michigan Professional Communicators, next was the “roundtable” discussion of announcements, events, and accomplishments from the interfaith and intercultural community.

One significant accomplishment was for’s Stephanie Fenton, the only journalist in the nation doing a regular column on holy day traditions from around the world. Fenton’s content is on the verge of being picked up by national journals, David Crumm announced, and is a “great example of how what we do in our group can influence what people see and read nationally,” as he put it.

“People come to us to find things they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to find,” Crumm said about Read the Spirit, and the same can be said of DPTV. Read the Spirit is often the only news Web site giving coverage to programs on Hallmark’s TV network, the History Channel, etc. Read the Spirit doesn’t cover the major networks such as Fox, NBC, and CBS, because “they typically don’t do content we’re interested in.” (Not to mention there’s already a glut of coverage about the topics those stations cover.)

Other news for Read the Spirit is the announcement that the Web site and publishing house is in the process of establishing e-courses this upcoming winter, regarding topics of interest to the interfaith and intercultural community. More information will be available on in the upcoming months.

The subject of one of Read the Spirit’s books published last year came up again, since we are now in the important time of year it discusses. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan occurs at a different time each year (starting eleven days earlier than the previous year), and in 2013 it falls between early July through early August. The Beauty of Ramadan: A Guide to the Muslim Month of Prayer and Fasting for Muslims and Non-Muslims, by local author Najah Bazzy, is a condensed guide to the cultural, health, and socio-political aspects of Ramadan observance. The book is available for purchase from, and through the book’s page on

An upcoming event—or series of events—discussed at this meeting was the Season of Gratitude in November. 2013 is the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of the Thanksgiving holiday as an American institution—as well as the 150th anniversary of his Emancipation Proclamation. The program is being organized by the IFLC, and links faith communities with the civic community. The IFLC is encouraging local faith communities to host Season of Gratitude events in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Thanksgiving holiday. The IFLC will post information on its Web site about these events, as well as an FAQ.

A new member organization of the national interfaith community introduced at this meeting is Sacred Language Communications (SLC), founded by journalist and church consultant Martin Davis. SLC’s goal is to help churches maximize the potential and effectiveness of the communication channels they already have for connecting with their congregations, rather than focus on introducing new technologies for communications. Though SLC is Virginia-based, Davis has worked directly with the IFLC and is well-known to the interfaith leadership of southeastern Michigan.

“In the world of church communications,” says Davis in a recent press release, “too much thinking about electronic communication is based on pushing information out, and not enough emphasis is placed on the two-way learning exchange that must occur to make electronic communications worthwhile.” SLC offers a variety of services focused on fostering two-way learning, such as lunch conferences, consulting, a free e-newsletter, and Webinars. On August 8, SLC is conducting a 60-minute Webinar titled “Breaking the 80 - 20 Problem: Using E-newsletters to Grow Volunteers and Strengthen Spiritual Growth.”

“We’re in an era where there really are no more competitors,” Read the Spirit co-founder David Crumm summed up. Many mainstream people would disagree, because this is untrue for the mainstream. The reality Crumm described has been created, however, and a gradually-increasing number of people are embracing that reality. They are making it their own, and sharing it, with the goal that eventually it will reach the critical mass of people required to make it a mainstream reality.

Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; marker, colored pencil, watercolor, metallic gel pen, flower petal

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