Unread, accumulating newspapers were the first sign to the neighbors that something was wrong at Deborah Kaplan's Seattle condo. The 53-year-old writer and University of Washington assistant professor had died of an apparent heart attack around Nov. 12, leaving behind a legacy of involved journalism at newspapers across the country including two in Detroit.
From 1989 to 1991, Kaplan was the Metro Times news editor after a four-year stint at the Detroit Free Press. Here she wrote about urban issues with the gritty detail that only came by actually prying boards from abandoned buildings to interview the occupants and finding little-known, after-hours clubs showcasing the city's first rappers.
In her first MT cover story, "Prophets of Rage," Kaplan chronicled the fledgling Detroit rap scene and the beginnings of its attention from major record labels. She interviewed Amery Dennard, then a 20-year-old rapper who was "struggling to make the big time." Dennard, at the time of publication, was recording on the city's east side and hoping rap would "be his ticket out of Detroit's streets," Kaplan wrote.
Now known as Big Herk, Dennard is one of a handful of respected rappers to rise from the Motor City. His 2003 album Guilty as Charged, and his collection of like-minded artists, Rock Bottom, have defined this city's streets for legions of rap fans around the world.
In another of her first works, Kaplan wrote about the growing attention to the city's homeless population, including the young homeless drop-in center at Cass Community United Methodist Church. Today, that program continues and has grown to include transitional housing, shelters for people with mental illness and AIDS, and a warming center.
"Deb Kaplan was one tough reporter. Her chops were impeccable and she would not quit when onto something important. It was an honor to work with her she made an important contribution to the newspaper in its formative years," says Ron Williams, MT's co-founder who also served as editor and publisher.
After leaving this paper, Kaplan started Motown Teen, a tabloid produced by inner-city teens, and then returned to college to finish her undergraduate degree. She continued with a master's in social science at the University of California-Irvine and a doctorate in journalism and mass communication at the University of North Carolina. In 2003, she joined the faculty of the University of Washington where she was writing academic papers and books about homelessness and teaching courses in communication and journalism. Her book Defining homelessness: The parallel discursive worlds of the news and the streets is due out next year. In her classes she talked about effecting change, believing in your work and studying the world around you, according to colleagues.
Her family plans a memorial fund in her name at University of Washington.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com