The empty zoo.

I probably should have linked this in the previous post, but on second thought, no: It deserves its own blinking arrow. Jim Griffoen, aka the blogger/photographer proprietor of Sweet Juniper, has another aces dispatch up, another heartbreaker about Detroit abandonment, in this case the zoo on Belle Isle. In a post that starts with a dead deer, moves on to a stray dog, touches briefly on Kwame Kilpatrick’s to-the-bone corruption and winds up with a series of haunted photos, Jim is one of those writers who makes the Web worth it. (Unlike, say, the Daily Beast. Zoos. Beasts. Huh.)

If I were a hiring editor at the Free Press or News — if there are any left — I’d start peeling off $100 bills to let the papers publish him 48 hours ahead of his own blog. Not that it would ever happen. But I can dream.

Posted at 9:29 am in Detroit life |

10 responses to “The empty zoo.”

  1. brian stouder said on January 6, 2009 at 9:53 am

    That WAS a good article; echoes of White Fang

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  2. Dorothy said on January 6, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Very haunting piece. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. Ann said on January 6, 2009 at 11:42 am

    That’s a great idea–to pay for the right to publish first. Too bad it won’t happen.

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  4. nancy said on January 6, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Well, I can dream, can’t I?

    The Metro Times has some sort of arrangement with the anonymous soul behind Detroitblog. A story goes in the MT (it’s our local alt-weekly) and D’blog posts it later in the day on his own site, with additional pictures. I don’t know how much money’s involved, but there’s probably at least a little.

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, however — how to bring webby storytelling to sites that generally do ink-on-paper. Gannett is about as adventurous in this area as a nun on a nude beach, but they should be thinking how they can link out to their community’s best bloggers, especially the ones who are so generous with their content, like Jim, and especially the ones who really do it web-style. Obviously, a story like this would never work in a newspaper — it’s too long, meanders on its way to the point and has way too many pictures. But it’s perfect for a website, even a newspaper website. And Jim has a national readership. It’s win-win all around.

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  5. WP Denver said on January 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Great link to the empty-zoo piece. Thanks. You’re right, it would never work in the newspapers we’re used to reading these days. But remember when all the big papers had big locally edited Sunday magazines? It would be perfect if anybody outside of NY and DC still had one of those.

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  6. Colleen said on January 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    That just made me really sad.

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  7. beb said on January 6, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Sweet Juniper’s essay on the late Belle Isle Zoo is exactly the sort of thing you need in a newspaper. It’s a feature people will talk around the water cooler, and want to collect if only for those great photographs. It’s the lack of content like this that discourages people from buying newspapers.

    The Belle Isle Zoo really was a nice place, and like the Belle Isle Aquarium, to just close and abandon in place such facilities is just criminal. People used to come out to Belle Isle during the winter to feed the deer. The deer were small and timid so to was safe to do so. It made you feel connected to the place. Now when you enter the island you’re greeted with a huge paved desert — pit crew area for the Grand Prix, which has decided not to come next year. Inch by inch the life is being sqeezed out of the place.

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  8. del said on January 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Last month on Belle Isle I encountered a feral cat living in the crushed concrete along the shoreline.

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  9. Deborah said on January 6, 2009 at 9:18 pm


    I’m sure you’ve heard this before – have you ever taught journalism? You seem like a born teacher. You can explain very clearly what makes a good story and know the difference when you see an excellent one. My husband practices architecture and teaches it on the side (at IIT). It keeps him on his toes and offers a steady stream of income when the projects are light. Just a thought.

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  10. CrazyCatLady said on January 7, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Growing up in Detroit, my parents often took us to the Belle Isle Zoo. I remember seals in a pool, tigers, deer and an assortment of colorful macaws and parrots. It was beautiful. To see the malignant neglect breaks my heart. Even a Fairy Tale ‘Cow-jumping-over-the-moon’ bench for family photos. Belle Isle was a place for canoeing too. But times change, and now it’s mostly a dumpster for careless visitors. Sad.

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