Detroit Free Press writers to receive Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for reporting on mayor
For Immediate Release:
Robert Leger, Grants and Awards Chair, Sigma Delta Chi Foundation,
(602) 444-6805, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Leadingham, Communications Coordinator, Society of Professional Journalists, (317) 927-8000 ex. 211, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick have been selected to receive the 2008 Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award, sponsored by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. The award is accompanied by a $10,000 prize.
As reporters for the Detroit Free Press, Schaefer and Elrick revealed how Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, lied in a police whistle-blower case. By using rights guaranteed under the Freedom of Information Act, the duo co-authored several articles in early 2008 that highlighted text messages exchanged between Kilpatrick and Beatty that were in direct conflict with testimony they had given in a civil trial. The settlement of the case cost the city’s taxpayers more than $9 million.
With the help of FOIA, the reporting by Schaefer, Elrick and other staff writers at the Free Press led Michigan’s Wayne County prosecutor to launch an investigation that initially resulted in 15 felony charges against Kilpatrick and Beatty, according to an award nomination letter from Free Press editors Paul Anger, Caesar Andrews and Jeff Taylor. The charges alleged the mayor and Beatty perjured themselves under oath, obstructed justice and committed other forms of misconduct while in office.
Just as significantly, the newspaper’s work established text messages sent on taxpayer-provided devices should be open records under states’ Sunshine Laws.
The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award recognizes a person or organization that has fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The $10,000 award is given in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999. He was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment.
“This award is so meaningful to us,” said Free Press Editor and Vice President Paul Anger. “The Pulliam Award recognizes work that helps underscore the importance of the First Amendment – plus the importance of freedom of the press and our watchdog role. We’re proud of our work and our reporters and are especially proud that the Pulliam judges have honored the Free Press.”
Schaefer and Elrick both have nearly 20 years of experience in journalism, including print and television reporting. Schaefer began his career in 1988 and has worked as a copy editor, page designer, video game critic and investigative reporter at the Free Press. He also worked for three years as an investigative producer for WXYZ-TV, Detroit’s ABC affiliate. Schaefer and Elrick recently won the 2008 Public Service Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors Association in relation to their reporting on Mayor Kilpatrick.
Elrick began as a reporter for the Concord Monitor in 1992, where he covered the New Hampshire legislature and launched the paper’s Sunday political column. He has also worked as an enterprise reporter for Chicago’s Daily Southtown and investigative reporter for WDIV-TV, Detroit’s NBC affiliate. In addition, Elrick has worked as an adjunct professor of journalism at Wayne State University and his alma mater, Michigan State University. In 2001, Elrick began his coverage of the Detroit city government for the Free Press and was offered the position of press secretary for Mayor Kilpatrick shortly after the mayor’s election. Elrick declined the post and stayed with the Free Press, eventually helping to break the story of Kilpatrick’s corruption.
The pair will receive their award during a banquet Saturday, Sept. 6 at the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.