As a kid, Detroit native Stephen Henderson, AB ’92, often typed his opinions regarding the local news and mailed them to the Detroit Free Press. “Never published any of them,” says the 2014 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary at, yes, the Detroit Free Press for a series of columns chronicling the city’s historic bankruptcy.
The award is especially poignant for the editor, who returned to Detroit from Washington, D.C., in 2007. He’d been covering the U.S. Supreme Court for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain.
In early 2013 he started writing about the biggest municipal bankruptcy filing in the nation. For a writer, the scenario presented a rich (though troubling) vein of content. For a native Detroiter, it was a tremendous opportunity to chronicle one of the greatest potential comebacks of all time.
He used the platform to address local and national leaders, dispel myths about the city’s decline and argue that the bankruptcy ruling was “the start of help Detroit needs.” It wasn’t long before he realized his voice resonated with citizens and decision-makers. “To be here and to do this work was enormously satisfying,” Henderson says. “The prize caps that off in a pretty extreme way.
Opinion pieces always have come naturally to Henderson, who served as editorial page editor at the Michigan Daily from 1990-92. He still contributes to the Daily as a professional adviser to the Student Publications Board. His chief concern focuses on the paper’s evolving business model as the demand for mobile content reshapes the traditional publishing paradigm. He worries the brightest young journalists may opt for employment that pays better than the student newspaper. He hopes that’s not the case, for personal and professional reasons.
“A lot of my closest friends in the world are people I met in that building,” he says. “I met my wife in that building. It’s home in a lot of really important ways. And the work I do now is all about the work I did then.”