Detroit once made the most amazing cars in the world.
Truly works of art, as well as powerhouse machines.
As a kid I can remember waiting for the new models to come out each year.
Then, something happened.
The whole thing turned rotten.
Today, GM and Ford are on the verge of bankruptcy. Daimler just dumped Chrysler for a fraction of what they paid for it.
The markets are telling the car manufacturers what anyone who drives a car in this country already knows: the cars suck. They just suck.
The guys in Detroit who run these giant failing corporations must live in an air-tight bubble all their own. Don’t they know what we all know already? Just look at the junk that they produce year after year. What is it with an insular industry that refuses to see the truth?
Drive a Mercedes or a BMW or a Porsche… or even a Saab. Then get behind the wheel of a GM car. Do you see a difference? Detroit has not changed in 40 years, because they felt they didn’t have to. Once great brands like Buick and Caddilac got fat and tired and old. They lost their edge. They lost what made them great which was the courage to take risks – to be bold and daring.
Now, turn on your TV set. Turn to the news. What do you see?
60 Minutes? Nightline? The CBS Evening News? Even local news.
These tired formats have also not changed in 30 years.. maybe more. Once they too were edgy, great, bold, daring. But that was a long time ago. In some cases the characters have not changed in 30 years. Its like Detroit. They drag out the same old tired formula year after year…. They have also grown fat and lazy. And like Detroit, their numbers are in slow but predictable decline. No one really wants it. No one really gets excited about it. They just whither away slowly.
A few months ago, I was in San Francisco and walked past a series of automobile showrooms downtown. Mercedes, then Masaratti, then GM. The Mercedes and Masaratti were a pleasure to look at, and crowded. The GM was empty and an embarassment. I felt sorry for the guys who worked there. It does not have to be this way, because they have designers and factories and tomorrow could build anything they wanted to build. Anything.
And yet they keep cranking out this crap and wondering why their sales continue to decline.
Television is a plastic medium. You can do anything with it. Anything.
Tomorrow, at CBS News they could rip up the set, the desk, the box over the shoulder, the uptight predictable delivery, the stories they do. They could do anything…. but they won’t. Like Detroit, you can smell the scent of death on the news programs. You already know they will not change. They will not take risks. They are institutionally incapable of making the changes they have to make to survive.
That does not mean that news and journalism are not important.
On the contrary.
But it does mean that the answer to the next generation of how new, information and public discourse are conveyed and conducted electronically are is probably not going to come from ABC, CBS or CNN.
Where will it come from? Who will have the courage to radically reinvent and redesign broadcast/webcast news?
In the 1950s, Detroit never for a minute would have imagined that they would be eaten up by Japan on one side and the Germans on the other. But there we are.
Who will eat up the audiences that used to belong to the Evening News?
No doubt, in Black Rock and 30 Rock, its going to come from the place they least expect.
Lemme ask you a question: If you could do anything, anything at all with the news… (and I mean anything)… broadcast/webcast. What would you do?