Detroit Journalist Wins Pulitzer Prize for Commentary on City’s Financial Crisis

Stephen Henderson, who joins seven other black journalists who have won in the category since 1970, is particularly proud to show people that the Motor City is “down but not out.”

Stephen Henderson
Stephen Henderson Courtesy of Stephen Henderson

Free Press Columnist Wrote Passionately About Fiscal Crisis

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary Monday “for his columns on the financial crisis facing his hometown, written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique.”

Henderson appeared to be the only black journalist named individually in the winners’ circle, but others were on the staff of the Boston Globe, which won in the breaking news category “for its exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that enveloped the city, using photography and a range of digital tools to capture the full impact of the tragedy.”

In the Free Press newsroom, “He’s already been sprayed with Champagne,” Thelma Oakes, administrative assistant to the editorial page, told Journal-isms by telephone about half an hour after the announcement. “The mayor’s called, the congressman’s called, his wife and children are here. It’s just a stream of people coming in to congratulate him.”

Henderson came into his office as Oakes was speaking. He told Journal-isms, “It’s overwhelming. What I hope that what people can take from this is that even in our darkest hour, with our financial problems and the bankruptcy, there is still a city that’s functioning.

“There is still greatness there and excellence. I feel like it’s ironic almost that I’m being honored for work about perhaps the darkest hour for my city, the city where I was born. . . .  We’re down but not out.”

In its story on Henderson’s Pulitzer, the Free Press listed the columns for which he was being recognized.

Most of the attention is expected to focus on the public service award to the Guardian and the Washington Post for their reporting on national security disclosures.

Ravi Somaiya reported for the New York Times, “The Washington Post and the Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, among the most prestigious awards in journalism, for their stories based on National Security Agency documents leaked by the former government contractor Edward J. Snowden.

“Through a series of reports that exposed the N.S.A.’s widespread domestic surveillance program, the Post and the Guardian sparked an international debate on the limits of government surveillance, a formal review from the White House and promises from President Obama himself to limit the agency’s powers. The newspapers also came under heavy criticism by the American and British governments, with lawmakers accusing the two papers of compromising national security.”

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