Detroit Free Press ("Our Children: Searching for Solutions")

A dance class in a dance studio
Students practice moves during After School Matters Hip Hop dancing program on Friday, July 22, 2016, at Gallery 37 Center for the Arts in Chicago, IL. Photo by Salwan Georges for Detroit Free Press.


In 2016, the Detroit Free Press embarked on a solutions project exploring the impact of violence on children in urban communities. The Free Press and many others had reported on this topic in the past, but the team wanted to ensure its coverage aligned with community concerns. The paper came up with the idea to organize focus groups with children and parents in Detroit.

“We wanted to be ambitious; we wanted to do right by community coverage,” says Ritu Sehgal, senior editor. After holding 11 conversations that included nearly 80 people, the team identified ten themes to focus on in the series. In total, the team wrote 19 stories that garnered awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and a Salute to Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.




  • Focus groups: Before the team did any reporting, one reporter was tasked with organizing the focus groups by reaching out to community organizations and asking whether they would help the paper find participants. Six discussions were held with kids, and five with parents. Each discussion lasted one to two hours, with a facilitator, reporter, editor, and videographer in attendance.
  • City poll: The Free Press also conducted a poll of Detroit residents that was informed by the focus group discussions. After the poll results were received, the team refined and narrowed the ten areas to further inform the coverage.




  • Work with community partners: The team sat down with a map of Detroit to ensure the focus groups represented different segments of the community and were geographically distributed. The paper reached out to community organizations that worked in those areas, explained the project, and asked if they could help recruit parents and children to participate in the groups. Those community organizations also loaned the Free Press space to hold focus groups, which was more convenient and accessible for residents than traveling to the Free Press newsroom.
  • Hire a facilitator: The team recruited a facilitator from a local university to run the groups. Each focus group took on concerns about kids, their neighborhoods, and their schools. All focus groups were videotaped with the permission of participants, but the Free Press promised not to use the footage in stories without participants’ explicit permission.