Detroit finds hope on ice
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DETROIT -- It's the elephant in the room -- or in this case, on the building -- the GM signs that tower above Detroit's skyline. As the giant automaker spirals toward one of the biggest bankruptcy filings in U.S. history, expected to be announced this morning, the Red Wings' quest for their second straight Stanley Cup offers a respite from the gloom and doom.
Even before the Red Wings got off to an auspicious start with a Game 1 victory over the Penguins Saturday, Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock talked of the lift his team's success can provide.
"I said to [general manager] Kenny Holland before the end of the Ducks series that I thought it was very important that we won for the city of Detroit and for Michigan just because of that. I know tons of families that have lost their jobs and are losing their homes.
"My kids are all in sports and there's two or three people on their teams losing jobs. And I'm not talking just your run-of-the-mill jobs. I'm talking guys that have worked for companies for 20 years. ... We know one family that's moving out of their home this weekend. That's going on all over Michigan."
GM, which turned 100 this year, isn't the only failing automaker whose fate touches lives in Detroit. Chrysler is waiting for a judge to rule on a deal with Fiat as it tries to work its way out of bankruptcy.
Kathy Sapia, 58, a retiree from Madison Heights, Mich., who has a tricked-out Wings-mobile, was all decked out in red and white for Game 2 yesterday. She said she's one of the lucky ones who can afford to be here. "I was just saying how sad it is ... I mean the Red Wings' success is good for Detroit, but it's also melancholy. I know a lot of people want to be here, they're always honking at my car, but 21,000 people lost jobs just this past month."
With such big, local stories to tell, the financially strapped newspapers of the Detroit Media Partnership, the Free Press and News, are doing it with a scaled-down operation. In December, they began delivering only on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a smaller print version available at newsstands the rest of the week. Just last week, the papers announced another round of companywide layoffs.
Shawn Windsor, who's been at the Free Press for nine years and a journalist for 20, wrote front-page news features before heading over to sports. He describes himself as "just an old print dude" who's now blogging and taking on multiple roles, as many of his colleagues and counterparts are.
Mr. Windsor is encouraged by steps his paper is taking, such as a subscription-based online product that offers the pages in PDF format, which gives the online reader the virtual experience of flipping pages.
"The optimist in me believes we'll find a way," he said of both Detroit and the Free Press. "We'll make an electric car; we'll become the brand for information in the state. That's the hope."
For some people, not having a daily print newspaper means a shift in long-held routines.
"The lack of a paper in the morning has been a real adjustment," said Tom Wilkinson, 53, of Farmington Hills, Mich. "I'm a morning runner, so not having the Free Press to read afterwards stinks. Now I go online more [but] you don't see the random 'article in the next column' that you do with a paper."
Dave Dye, a sports writer who has been at the Detroit News since 1985, said changes in the way the paper is delivered "have not been reflected in coverage of the big stories."
Those sorts of differences can be measured in column inches. Morale is much trickier to size up, and that's where the Red Wings, seeking their 12th Stanley Cup Championship, can be of service.
Coach Babcock knows that for many Detroit fans, a playoff ticket can be out of reach. "But they'll be at home watching TV," he said, "and we'll do our part."
First Published June 1, 2009 12:00 am