It’s hard to imagine the Detroit Free Press without M.L. Elrick.
Charismatic, dogged and earnest, Elrick is a relentless watchdog driven by an intolerance for corruption.
He and reporting partner Jim Schaefer took down the Kwame Kilpatrick administration with a series of stories that showed the then-mayor committed perjury and carried on a torrid affair with his chief of staff.
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The reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for their work in 2009, bringing national attention to the newspaper.
Now Elrick, 44, is bringing his investigative craft to Fox 2, where he’ll join a staff that includes another Pulitzer winner and muckraker, Charlie LeDuff. LeDuff, who also started in newspapers, has become a household name with eye-opening, sometimes hilarious and poignant, reports about the city of Detroit.
Elrick, eccentric himself, is a perfect fit for the edgy Fox 2, which is building a reputation for hard-nosed news in an industry that is often stale and overly cautious.
During my six years at the Free Press, Elrick fearlessly pursued crooked politicians who misused tax dollars. Under Elrick’s eye, Kilpatrick couldn’t seem to get away with anything. When the former mayor abused city-issued credit cards or petty cash, Elrick sniffed out the story. When Kilpatrick was giving jobs to numerous family members and former classmates or steering city contracts to friends, Elrick was on the case.
No one questioned Elrick’s sincerity. Living in Detroit with his family, Elrick loves the city and is motivated by a strong, unyielding sense of right and wrong.
He came to the Free Press in 1999, writing obits. Before long, Elrick was uncovering government abuse and city hall.
He left the Free Press in 2006 for a one-year stint at Channel 4.
The Free Press will have to do without Elrick again. The Investigative Team, which recently lost an editor and now Elrick, still includes the talented Schaefer and Jennifer Dixon. This weekend, the pair exposed scofflaws who illegally park in handicap spots.
“It is with deep sorrow and great excitement that I write to you today that I will leave the Detroit Free Press later this month to join FOX 2 Detroit as investigative reporter,” Elrick wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. “I love the Free Press dearly and will miss all of my friends and colleagues here. This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my professional career, and the Free Press very graciously let me know they would appreciate it if I wouldn’t go. But, as Duke Leto so sagely notes, ‘… a person needs new experiences … ‘
“So, as my dear Irish granny used to say as she raised her glass: ‘Here’s to those who wish me well, All the rest can go to (someplace not desirable).'”
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.