MSU alumnus M.L. Elrick was among the Detroit Free Press staff who were awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for its coverage of the text messaging scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The coverage eventually led to Kilpatrick’s resignation and jailing. The Detroit Free Press staff won the award in the local reporting category.
“It tells the rest of the country what Detroit already knows, and that’s that the Free Press does damn good work,” Elrick said.
Elrick said he was stunned when the Free Press staff won because he had convinced himself they wouldn’t.
“When we finally did (win), I didn’t know how to react,” he said.
Elrick attended MSU from 1985 to 1990. He credited the School of Journalism as a place where he learned his craft.
“It’s great to have a place to learn and you learn by doing,” he said. “MSU is great because the people and the journalism school are so supportive.”
Elrick wrote for The State News in 1987-88.
Members of the MSU School of Journalism said they were proud Elrick took journalism’s top honor.
Free Press reporters Elrick and Jim Schaefer were the first to uncover text messages in January 2008 showing that Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, had lied under oath in a 2007 police whistleblower trial in which they denied their relationship and their role in the firing of former Detroit police Deputy Chief Gary Brown.
Kilpatrick eventually resigned Sept. 4 last year after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and no contest in an assault case. He served four months in jail.
“I am so proud of Mike (Elrick) and Jim and the whole Free Press staff,” MSU School of Journalism Director Jane Briggs-Bunting said. “It was a courageous and difficult story that they broke.”
Briggs-Bunting also is president of the State News’ Board of Directors.
“It’s good to see that watchdog journalism that we need,” she said.
MSU visiting instructor Joe Grimm was a newsroom recruiter and staff development editor for the Free Press from 1990 until 2008. Grimm said Elrick’s role in the scandal coverage is a credit to MSU and the Free Press.
“M.L. said he couldn’t be where he is without the education he received from the journalism school,” Grimm said.
“The kind of stories they did tell journalists that journalism is sometimes the only way to get important stuff done.”
Grimm also said he thinks this will be a morale boost for the Free Press.
“It is a great boost to staff when all journalists need good news,” he said. “(Elrick and Schaefer) had tremendous support from the editors of the Free Press and from other reporters.”
Elrick said this type of reporting could not be done by a television station.
“They don’t have the time, resources or commitment,” he said. “For everyone who wonders why they put 50 cents in (for a paper), this is why.”