"60 Minutes" Missed Big Opportunity to Highlight Detroit's Young Entrepreneurs

The venerable television news magazine 60 Minutes began Sunday’s broadcast with a piece called “Detroit On the Edge.” I’ve been a fan of 60 Minutes for decades, and I was looking forward to the segment even as its title made me wary. If there was one journalistic outlet I expected to present a fresh, balanced piece about Detroit, it was 60 Minutes. Boy, was I disappointed.

It’s not that 60 Minutes got things factually incorrect. Indeed, our streetlights aren’t working, our police response times continue to be outrageously long, our fire trucks are in deplorable condition, the pervasiveness of blight is inexcusable, and our bankruptcy is forcing terrible funding choices, like pitting retiree pensions against our world-class art collection housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As firefighter Jeremy Mullins told 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon, he doesn’t understand why Detroiters aren’t banging down the doors at City Hall to demand functioning city services.

Simon: “They’re resigned to it.”

Mullins: “I believe that people in this city have lived with it this way for so long that maybe they don’t understand that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

Instead, where 60 Minutes failed was in its choice to highlight such a small—and already well reported—segment of Detroit’s population that is working to improve the city. Urban farmers and the Motor City Blight Busters are certainly worthy of coverage and their efforts should be applauded. But those are stories we’ve heard before, over and over again.

Even Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert, whose downtown revitalization efforts received arguably the largest chunk of airtime in the piece, was disappointed. Shortly after the broadcast aired, he took to Twitter to say, “Expected more of @60Minutes. Is a ‘me too’ story of mostly ‘ruin porn’ news? A city’s soul that will not die was the story & they missed it.”

During the televised segment, Gilbert even threw 60 Minutes a softball that they could have followed up on. He told an incredulous Bob Simon that, despite all of the well-known troubles Detroit is facing, he’s been able to successfully lure young entrepreneurs to the city by selling them on the idea that they can make a difference here; that, as entrepreneurs, their innovative work will have a significant contribution to the rebirth of Detroit.

Picking up that thread, 60 Minutes could have interviewed Quikly’s Shawn Geller or Stik.com’s Nathan Labenz and Jay Gierak on the decision to relocate to Detroit from Philadelphia and San Francisco, respectively, to build their tech companies. Simon could have taken a tour of IDInteract and talked to Matt Standish about why his vision to reinvent online brand interaction begins in Detroit. 60 Minutes could have spent some time with the Detroit Bus Company’s Andy Didorosi or Loveland Technologies’ Jerry Paffendorf to learn more about the many different innovative projects they’re working on, or talked to Jenile Brooks about why she left a successful film production career in New York City to return to her hometown to start a business. Heck, Simon could have even reported on why big national tech companies like Twitter and Uber are choosing to set up outposts in Detroit.

Instead, 60 Minutes gave us a tired retread of the “same old sad love song.” The only thing missing was the obligatory reference to Slow’s Bar-B-Q. We hope the next time they come to town, they’ll employ a bit more of the excellent journalism they’re famous for.

In the meantime, if you really want to see an interesting report on Detroit, check out this 60 Minutes segment from 1976 about what was then a relatively new foreclosure and blight crisis. Mike Wallace is at his dogged best as he talks to a young Carl Levin, then Detroit City Council president, and grills city officials about mismanagement. It’s a bit staggering to realize how little—and how much—has changed since then.

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