Pulitzer-Winner M.L. Elrick Leaving Free Press For Fox 2
M.L. Elrick, the reporter who was part of the Free Press’ 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning team, is leaving the paper to join Fox 2 Detroit as the investigative reporter.
At Channel 2, Elrick will join a free-wheeling staff that has been energized by the addition of another newspaper veteran, Charlie LeDuff, who worked at the New York Times and Detroit News. Elrick starts Aug. 13.
With Elrick’s departure, three of the four staffers who were most responsible for the Free Press' Pulitzer Prize-wining coverage of the Kwame Kilpatrick text-message scandal in 2008 have left the paper this year. Moreover, the Free Press, faced with enormous pressures from the digital revolution, is cutting staffers through buyouts and will probably announce layoffs in the coming months. It already has trimmed more than one-third of its staff in the past five years.
Also on Tuesday, Jeff Gerritt, a notable voice on the Free Press editorial page who paid closed attention to Detroit and its poorest, most powerless residents, announced he is leaving the paper for the Toledo Blade.
While Elrick chafed at times under what he felt was heavy-handed editing at the Free Press, he was magnanimous Tuesday, saying top editor Paul Anger made him an attractive counter-offer despite Elrick's sometimes caustic criticism of the paper's high-level decision-making over the years.
Elrick said looks forward to working with friends at Channel 2, such as Kevin Roseborough, the assistant news director and a former Free Press editor, and he believes the station will offer him autonomy that he did not enjoy at the Free Press.
“I have a lot of regard for the Free Press,” Elrick told Deadline Detroit.
“This isn’t about leaving the Free Press. It’s about leaving for a better opportunity. I see some more possibilities at Fox 2. Right now Fox 2 is a better fit.”
Elrick, 44, who lives in Detroit, first worked for the Free Press as a clerk in the Lansing bureau in 1989, when he was a student at Michigan State University. He joined the Free Press fulltime as an obituary writer in 1999 and left for two years when he worked as a reporter for WDIV-TV in 2006 and 2007.
He returned to the paper in late summer 2007, just before the whistleblower trial, at which Kilpatrick, then mayor, perjured himself in denying he had had an affair with top aide Christine Beatty. The affair was a key element in the lawsuit by former members of the mayoral security team.
In what certainly was one of the biggest scoops in the history of Detroit journalism, Elrick and partner Jim Schaefer proved Kilpatrick had lied by obtaining transcripts of often lurid text messages between Kilapatrick and Beatty, As a result of the stories, Kilapatrick resigned in September 2008, spent three months in the Wayne County Jail for prejury, then was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for subsequently lying during court hearings about his restitution payments. He is awaiting federal trial in September on a multi-count racketeering indictment. Elrick said he will cover the trial.
In 2010, Elrick and Schaefer published "The Kwame Sutra," a collection of quotations from Kilpatrick, which has had multiple printings.
At the Free Press, Elrick was a fervent union leader, recruiting colleagues to join the Newspaper Guild and helping staffers who needed Guild help wether or not they belonged to the union.
The other ex-Free Press journalists who played key roles in the Pulitzer stories are David Zeman, the investigative editor, who went to work for the Education Trust-Midwest, and Jeff Taylor, the Free Press senior managing editor, who in June became the top editor of the Indianapolis Star.
The following is the note to the staff from editorial page editor Stephen Henderson about Gerritt:
"It's with both congratulations and regrets that I convey the news that Jeff Gerritt will leave the Free Press in mid-August. In September, Jeff will become the deputy editorial page editor for the Toledo Blade -- working for David Kushma, once the deputy editorial page editor here at the Freep.
"In Jeff's 17 years at the Free Press, he has distinguished himself as a voice for the voiceless -- the impoverished, the disenfranchised and, most notably, those locked behind prison bars. Jeff's work advocating more rational and humane prison policies has helped shape a statewide discussion about those issues and changed outcomes about Michigan's approach to crime and punishment. Jeff has always had a knack for demonstrating the human costs of policies that keep people in prison longer than they need to be and gives them inappropriate re-entry support once they're released.
"Jeff's work has been honored with dozens of awards over his time at the Free Press, including the national Society of Professional Journalists award for his D Diaries in 2011 and the 2002 Jim Batten Medal for public service.
"Jeff's presence, and his work, will be missed."