You heard the bad news from Detroit.
First things first.
You have to change when things are going well.
When papers – like our loved ones in Detroit – are doing extremely badly, these radical changes make everything worse.
I have great respect for IDEO, but like when the Toyota design team was hired to revamp the Los Angeles Times, or when any general management consultant is called to save the life of any newspaper in trouble, you cannot succeed without some knowledge of this industry.
Consultants don’t perform miracles.
All these wonderful prototypes and innovative research ignore one basic fact: Detroit is a city that doesn’t exist anymore.
As INNOVATION’s Leo Bogart used to say: the death of a city is the death of the newspapers.
Only vibrant and lively cities have and will continue to have healthy newspapers.
Go to the headquarters of the Detroit papers and you will see a dead city.
People left downtown Detroit many years ago and now they live and work in the suburbs.
So, just like the Christian Science Monitor’s case, it’s a wrong assumption to present these bold changes (going from print to online, etc.) as the path for the future.
They are not.
And as an old resident of downtown Detroit, where I still have some of my best friends, I am very sorry to say this :
These are not signs of the future, but of the end of these newspapers.
Today these two newspapers combined sell less than 500,000 copies.
A few years ago, they were selling three times this number!
It’s not the Internet.
It’s not Gannett.
It’s not Singleton.
It’s not the financial crisis.
It is simply the tragic death of a city and its newspaper market.
And, I’m sorry, but just as the IDEO’s of this world cannot resurrect a city, they also will not be able to save these papers.
And one last comment: the Detroit Media Partnership is going to fire a lot of people.
My feeling, and my sources, tell me that IDEO is going to be the perfect scapegoat for this mess.
Yes, sometimes you hire external consultants and you blame to them for the firings and the final mistakes.
The Detroit papers have great newsrooms and great journalists.
What they don’t have is a market.
As simple as that.
The rest is bullshit.