This week, Time Inc. launches Assignment Detroit, a year-long commitment to living in and reporting from the city of Detroit. As part of that commitment, the company has purchased a home in the city from which its reporters will live and work.
TIME INC. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF JOHN HUEY writes in a letter to readers in TIME and FORTUNE, “We believe that Detroit right now is a great American story. No city has had more influence on the country's economic and social evolution. Detroit was the birthplace of both the industrial age and the nation's middle class, and the city's rise and fall—and struggle to rise again—are a window into the challenges facing all of modern America....As a story, Detroit has been misunderstood, underreported, stereotyped, avoided and exploited for decades. To get it right, we decided to become stakeholders. Over the next year, we intend to flood the D-zone with journalists, photographers, videographers and bloggers from Time and Time.com, Fortune and Fortune.com, CNNMoney.com, Money, even Sports Illustrated....The hope is that through all these efforts, a narrative arc about Detroit will emerge over the next year that can somehow make a difference. While we do not intend to be cheerleaders or apologists, we do have a point of view: we want Detroit to recover and find its way into the future.”
TIME COVER: “THE TRAGEDY OF DETROIT. HOW A GREAT CITY FELL— AND HOW IT CAN RISE AGAIN.”— Daniel Okrent, a Detroit native, reports, “By any quantifiable standard, the city is on life support. Detroit's treasury is $300 million short of the funds needed to provide the barest municipal services. The school system, which six years ago was compelled by the teachers' union to reject a philanthropist's offer of $200 million to build 15 small, independent charter high schools, is in receivership. The murder rate is soaring, and 7 out of 10 remain unsolved. Three years after Katrina devastated New Orleans, unemployment in that city recently hit a peak of 11%. In Detroit, the unemployment rate is 28.9%.” Okrent suggests that Detroit can rise again, writing, “For its part, Detroit must address the fact that a 138-sq.-mi. city that once accommodated 1.85 million people is way too large for the 912,000 who remain.... Detroit has to shrink its footprint, even if it means condemning decent houses in the gap-toothed areas and moving their occupants to compact neighborhoods where they might find a modicum of security and service. Build greenbelts, which are a lot cheaper to maintain than untraveled streets. Encourage urban farming. Let the barren areas revert to nature.”
DETROIT MAYOR DAVE BING TELLS TIME, “CHANGES THAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED 20 YEARS AGO ARE NOW UPON US. PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATIONS HAD FOLKS WHO WERE SO CONCERNED ABOUT GETTING ELECTED, OR RE-ELECTED. I’M NOT WORRIED ABOUT THAT.”— In an interview with TIME’s Steven Gray, Bing says “There’s no doubt in my mind we’ve got to think longer term. But that’s not today. If we don’t handle the problems we’ve got today, there is no long term.” Gray writes, “Barring anything unforeseen, Bing will win re-election handily. Detroiters may not love him ... but there really are no other viable alternatives.”
FORTUNE COVER: “GM: DO OR DIE”—FORTUNE’s Alex Taylor writes, “General Motors and Fortune have grown up together...As Time Inc. founder Henry Luce was creating the modern business magazine at the end of the 1920s, GM was passing Ford to become the world’s largest automaker...With this issue, Fortune commences its contribution to Time Inc.'s ‘Assignment Detroit’ series with a look at two sides of GM: its management under the new leadership of president and CEO Fritz Henderson, and its manufacturing...Can Henderson do it? Yes, he can. I have never met an executive who was better prepared for his job. But can GM do it? There, I'm not so sure.”
GM CHAIRMAN ED WHITACRE ON FRITZ HENDERSON: “HE HAS TO PRODUCE...WE WANT HIM TO SUCCEED, BUT HE’S UNDER THE GUN. SOMETHING HAS TO IGNITE THIS COMPANY.” -- FORTUNE’s Alex Taylor writes, “GM finds itself in a better place than it has in a decade. The company that Henderson led out of bankruptcy on June 10 is smaller, nimbler, more focused, and less financially stretched.” Henderson tells FORTUNE, “Bankruptcy was very humbling...admitting the exact nature of our wrongs...making a list of all persons we had harmed and being willing to make amends to them all.” Ron Bloom, senior advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told FORTUNE, “GM has to make great cars, not just okay cars...The current lineup is not all great cars. They understand what it takes, but now they have to do it."
FORTUNE’S DAVID WHITFORD ON GENERAL MOTORS AND “THE GREEN CAR ECONOMY THAT MAY WELL BE DETROIT’S LAST HOPE” – Detroit Mayor Dave Bing sees his city as “the logical place for the next generation of battery-powered cars to be engineered, designed, and built,” telling FORTUNE, “Detroit has been and always will be the home and epicenter of auto innovation.” Whitford writes, “[L]ate next year, GM plans to begin building the Volt, Chevy’s $40,000 plug-in electric car. The stakes have never been higher: for GM ... for the American auto industry ... and not least for the city of Detroit, still betting, however improbably, on a Motor City renaissance ... Now it’s proposing to leapfrog its rivals with a hastily developed, expensive technology, knowing it needs nothing less than a grand slam if it’s going to regain the confidence of investors, begin paying back the taxpayers, and jump-start the green-car economy that may well be Detroit’s last hope.”
PLUS: ASSIGNMENT DETROIT VIDEOS ON CNNMONEY.COM:
Detroit biz: “Weird” and “good”--
How to survive in Detroit-
The October 5, 2009 issue of TIME