Friday, July 19, 2013

How Does Bankruptcy Become a Compelling Story? People, People, People

Depression Bread Line (1999) by George Segal (For more on Segal, click here)
The royal baby, and for that matter, Kim and Kanye's newborn, seem to be getting more coverage in the media than Detroit declaring bankruptcy. It's not because Americans don't care about Detroit, a city that has been in decline for decades. Or that the public knows that the bankruptcy is a political issue that has upset city employees and is being challenged in court. (For more on this, read the excellent story by John Cassidy on The New Yorker website.) But the real reason is clear and simple: we relate more to people than to complex ideas. While many in Detroit would be affected by this bankruptcy, we don't know them. The idea of a city going bankrupt is just too big to process, and hard to believe and understand. But everyone can relate to mothers and babies, and I think most Americans have heard of Kate and Kim.

So how can the media increase the relevance of Detroit's bankruptcy? The old-fashioned way: just keep talking to people, digging for the most compelling stories that illustrate the impact of the bankruptcy. Perhaps focus on one or two Detroit families and create something akin to a reality series that traces their past, present, and future in the Motor City. Or maybe, find one business, big or small, that is emblematic of the decline, and create a series based on its experiences. There are many ways to humanize the story of Detroit, but at the heart of all them is its people.

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