Free Press’ Stephen Henderson wins 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary
9:14 PM, April 14, 2014
Detroit Free Press Stephen Henderson reacts to winning Pulitzer: Detroit Free Press Stephen Henderson reacts to winning Pulitzer. Cassandra Spratling/DFP
Detroit Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson takes a congratulatory phone call from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan after winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Detroit Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson takes one of many phone calls after learning that he won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for commentary on Monday. His shirt was doused with champagne by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Jim Schaefer. / Diane Weiss /Detroit Free Press
Stephen Henderson / Detroit Free Press
Stephen Henderson, Free Press Editorial Page Editor
Family: Wife and two kids
Education: University of Michigan, University of Detroit Jesuit High School
Work Experience: Free Press Editorial Page Editor for the Free Press since January 2009; Roles include reporter, editorial writer and editor at the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and Lexington Herald Leader; Covered the U.S. Supreme Court for Knight Ridder’s Washington Bureau from 2003-2007.
Detroit Free Press’ 10 Pulitzer Prizes
- 2014: Commentary: For columns about Detroit’s bankruptcy and the plight of city residents
- 2009: Local Reporting: For coverage of a scandal that led to the resignation and jailing of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
- 1990: Feature photography for capturing images from a tumultuous year in world events, including the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- 1984: Feature photography for chronicling a year in the lives of a group of students at Southwestern High School in Detroit
- 1981: Feature photography for presenting conditions inside the state prison in Jackson.
- 1968: For coverage of the 1967 Detroit riot and its aftermath
- 1956: Deadline reporting on contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and GM and Ford
- 1955: Editorial writing about the July 1954 strike at Chrysler
- 1945: Public service for a series on bribery and corruption among state lawmakers
- 1932: For coverage of World War I veterans in an American Legion parade
The Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for commentary by Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson, whose unflinching examination of Detroit’s financial collapse gave readers a sobering overview of the past and a hopeful road map for recovery.
This year’s honor was the Free Press’ 10th Pulitzer Prize over its history. The award is considered the most prestigious in journalism and is bestowed annually in several categories by Columbia University in New York. Other winning news organizations this year included the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian US.
“It’s not really sunk in yet. I’m still completely overwhelmed, but of course really grateful,” Henderson said. “The work that we do here is so important right now and so critical to the city.”
The prize committee praised Henderson’s columns for being “written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique.”
Henderson took Detroit’s elected officials to task for not leading the city through the financial crisis and then objecting to state control of any kind that could have helped the city save millions a year and avoided a state takeover. He wrote with a powerful, personal voice about the plight of residents facing diminished city services and higher crime because of fiscal mismanagement.
Paul Anger, Free Press editor and publisher, said Henderson brings deep skills and committment to his job as the newspaper’s editorial director and editorial page editor since 2008. “Steve is a unique journalist — he’s a wonderful writer, he has courage, and he has a commitment to Detroit and Michigan that he feels in his soul.”
“As a community, we need effective leadership in so many ways, and I think Steve has been a very strong voice and a leader in his own right,” Anger said. “He has been a strong advocate for Detroiters and making their lives better, above all else.”
“This honor is really a victory for all who believe in a better Detroit,” Anger said.
Joyce Jenereaux, president of the Detroit Free Press, said Henderson’s prize is another reminder of how the Free Press is one of the most outstanding news-gathering operations in the country.
“The Free Press has clearly been a powerful voice for its community on the most critical stories of our time,” she said.
A native Detroiter, Henderson, 43, has worked at the Free Press since 2007 following an earlier stint in the 1990s. He previously covered the U.S. Supreme Court for four years with the Washington Bureau of the former Knight Ridder newspaper chain.
Henderson has cultivated an audience beyond newsprint and online journalism. He is the host of a weekly talk show, “American Black Journal,” and co-host of the news wrap-up show “MiWeek,” both on Detroit Public Television. In March, he became a correspondent for WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).
He is a 1988 graduate of University of Detroit Jesuit High School and a 1992 graduate of the University of Michigan, where he worked on the student newspaper, the Michigan Daily.
His first experience at the Free Press was as a summer intern in 1991. He returned for a period in the mid-1990s as an editorial writer and later as a beat reporter covering Detroit Public Schools.
Henderson said the opportunity to cover important stories at a critical period in the history of his home state and hometown was why he chose to return to Detroit after his years in Washington.
“It was an important time to be in Detroit and an important time to be in Michigan, and I felt like coming back sent a message,” he said. “My first column was about that … how I wanted to try to make it better by being here.”
Henderson lives in downtown Detroit with his wife, Christine, and two children.
The Free Press’ last Pulitzer was in 2009 for its coverage of the text message scandal that led to the resignation and jailing of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
One recipient of the 2009 prize, reporter Jim Schaefer, doused Henderson with a surprise shower of champagne shortly after Monday’s 3 p.m. award announcement. A circle of colleagues broke into loud applause.
Each prize comes with a $10,000 award. The newspaper received its first Pulitzer in 1932 for a story on the lives of World War I veterans in an American Legion parade.
Here are the columns Stephen Henderson was recognized for: