This summer the news division at Time Inc. bought a house in Detroit. Why? Following the lead of editor-in-chief John Huey, the editors agreed that even Detroit's unequaled influence on the economic and social evolution of America as the cradle of the nation's middle class was scraping bottom, and that the city's rise and fall and struggle to rise again reflected the harshest of changing American realities. So what's it really like to live in Detroit? That's where the house on Parker Avenue comes in.
The intention of Time Inc.'s Assignment Detroit is to flood the zone with journalists, photographers, videographers and bloggers from TIME and Time.com, FORTUNE and Fortune.com, CNNMoney.com, Money, as well as the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Group. Some staffers will live in the house, and others will stay there while in town reporting. It was dubbed the D-Shack after Kid Rock dropped by with a housewarming gift of a Gothic D for the mantel and a keg of his locally brewed Badass Beer; you can't throw a rock from the porch without hitting a strong story.
The wounds are open. Since the scorching riots of 1967, no other city has suffered more depressing economic trends. The politics can be toxic, and there are continuing issues of race and class, as well as health care and education. Not one national chain operates a grocery store within city limits; the functional illiteracy rate is pushing 50%; the unsolved murder rate is near 70%; unemployment is up to 29%. And yet outside of Michigan, Detroit has been underreported.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's perspective, Detroit is above all a sports town, and SI kicks off Assignment Detroit this week with a cover story by senior writer Lee Jenkins, who reports how Tigers owner Mike Ilitch responded to the economic crisis not by cutting costs but by reinvesting dramatically in his franchise and what that has meant to the people of Detroit. What has unfolded at Comerica Park this summer, one year removed from a last-place finish, has lifted the city.
"For all the disadvantages facing Detroit right now, the city has something crucial going for it," Jenkins says. "Scores of people and families have been in the area for generations and care deeply about it, as demonstrated by the passion they show for their sports teams. As Kid Rock said when asked about this year's Tigers: 'We'll take whatever we can get. We have nowhere to go but up.' "
Detroit is fighting for life. And yet in its relationship with the Tigers it is possible to see a future when better days -- and perhaps the World Series -- come back to town.