Too many Detroiters go without the information and resources they need to meet their challenges and achieve their goals. We work to change that. 

We have far more to do, but in 2022 we’ve equipped Detroiters, changed policies and reduced harm in the city. Along the way we keep working to help build the information systems and infrastructure that will contribute to a more liberated city. 

Everything starts with TXTOUTLIER, our automated service that fills information gaps and connects Detroiters with reporters. (If you haven’t tried it yet, text DETROIT to 67485.) We text about 8,000 Detroiters per week, and connect them to information and resources about housing, utilities and food assistance.

With information and resources that came at the right time, we helped hundreds of Detroiters avoid tax foreclosure, eviction and utility shut-offs this year. 

“Yours is a wonderful asset to the city! Thank you!” one user said last week. 

Will you consider donating to Outlier Media to support this work? Through Dec. 31, NewsMatch will match your new monthly donation at the 12-month value or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Our motto is to give more than we take. We hope you have seen value in the information we provide and that you’ll partner with us by donating today.

We have also used our experience answering these text messages to create guides for how to tackle some common Detroit problems. This year, we’ve produced guides on how to avoid tax foreclosure, how to buy a house in cash and how to read your water bill. 

When information alone isn’t enough to address a problem, we try to use our reporting to create more accountability. Outlier published more than 110 stories this year, on top of the three weekly newsletters we write and edit. This past summer, a TXTOUTLIER user told us many low-income seniors felt trapped in Detroit’s Jeffersonian building with no air conditioning and unresponsive management during an extreme heat wave. We quickly published a story with our partners at the Detroit Free Press, brought widespread attention to the issue and sped up the repairs. 

After years of trying to help people one-on-one through utility shut-offs, we worked with ProPublica to expose the scope of DTE’s utility shutoffs and debt collection practices, which are out of step and more punishing than those of every other large utility in the Midwest. As a result, Detroit City Council will bring DTE executives before council in January to discuss their shut-off and debt collection practices. Our reporting may have also contributed to the smallest rate increase for DTE electric customers in more than a decade. The MPSC rejected more than 90% of DTE’s rate increase request and customer bills will go up by less than $1 as a result.

When we discovered Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department misled unsuspecting buyers who went on to buy homes from the city without water service lines, the department pledged to make the expensive repairs free of cost to the 200 homeowners affected by the problem.

By co-reporting with our partners at Planet Detroit, we uncovered that the city was a primary reason lead-contaminated homes were re-entering the housing market and that buyers were often unaware of the risks to themselves and their children. Our reporting has also brought attention to the Detroit Police Department doing an end run around eviction courts and removing residents from their homes or arresting people who were not, in fact, trespassing or squatting. The Police Department and the Board of Police Commissioners are now both investigating the squatters action team, and a civil lawsuit is proceeding. 

But we’re not just trying to help Detroiters survive, we are also working alongside our neighbors to thrive. Our Detroit Documenters program doesn’t just hold city officials accountable, it provides a community where hundreds of Detroiters learn together and improve the city they care enough about to demand more of. Documenters covered 254 city and county meetings this year and created a voting guide, cleaned up Belle Isle together and spent two weeks riding Detroit’s buses to discover what’s holding Detroiters back. The more than 350 Detroit Documenters are the kind of civic infrastructure every city needs to nurture.

In our Detour Detroit newsletter, we have lifted up artists, got people ready and excited to vote, highlighted queer spaces and favorite city landmarks, directed readers to resources like free COVID-19 tests and rental assistance, reported on food insecurity, how to maneuver Detroit’s trash rules, scooter restrictions, pedestrian safety and whether or not the DIA is earning the hundreds of millions in local tax dollars voters have sent their way. We connected readers to residents and groups fostering community in Detroit, from a social justice scavenger hunt to moped rentals and cemetery history tours. And we’ll never stop sharing our community’s successes, whether you’re performing with an orchestra or opening a small business.

In 2023 we have more to do. 

As always, we will assess Detroiters’ information needs and tailor our coverage to respond to them. But we already know we need to work with newsrooms across the city to cover how the high cost and difficulty of getting around the city and the metro area can keep Detroiters from meeting their goals. We hope to improve our SMS system and to reach more people by making our work more accessible through video. We will grow the Documenters network and encourage more Detroiters to be civically engaged. We believe reported and verified information can equip Detroiters to confront systemic challenges and that together we can help build a more liberated city. 

Sarah (she/her) believes the best local reporting is a service, responds directly to community needs and reduces harm. Her favorite place in Detroit is her backyard on a summer evening.