M.L. Elrick leaves Detroit Free Press to join WJBK-TV

Crain’s Detroit Business Poynter

Veteran reporter M.L. Elrick is leaving the Detroit Free Press to become an investigative reporter at WJBK-TV2, the city’s Fox affiliate. Elrick, 44, told Crain’s Detroit Business that he’s ready for a new challenge and that the station has agreed to let him take time off in the future to work on a book about the Kwame Kilpatrick saga, which won him and Jim Schaefer the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 .

Elrick told Crain’s that he still considers the Free Press to be “a great paper doing the lord’s work,” but that in the end, the newspaper’s work “wasn’t avante-garde enough” for him. This isn’t Elrick’s first TV job; he worked for a year at WDIV-TV and then returned to the Free Press in 2007.

One of Elrick’s new colleagues at WJBK will be Charlie LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who formerly worked at The New York Times and the Detroit News. Pulitzer Prize finalist Brendan McCarthy recently announced he’ll be leaving the Times-Picayune and joining WWL-TV’s investigative unit next month.

After the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced they would be offering buyouts to some employees, Elrick told Poynter he was worried about the talent the paper would lose. “We’re still doing great work, despite the challenges, but I shudder to think that for every new employee, the diminished Free Press of today will be considered the gold standard against which they measure the newspaper in the future,” said Elrick, who has also been serving as vice chairman of the Free Press unit of the Detroit Newspaper Guild.

Here’s the note Elrick sent to colleagues, announcing his move:

My friends, my podmates, my Guild sisters and brothers, it is with sadness and excitement that I write to tell you that I gave notice Monday and will be leaving the Free Press at the end of the week.

I will start Aug. 13 as Fox2’s investigative reporter (and Charlie LeDuff wardrobe consultant).

I’m sure you have heard something about this, and I’m sorry not to be telling you this in person over a beer. But I have been in lengthy and difficult negotiations with the station. Since yesterday, I have been in discussions with the Free Press about staying.

Paul has put together a very attractive proposal to keep me here. How attractive? It’s something I proposed more than a year ago. I find it heartening, and hope you will, too, that despite all the grief I’ve given these guys, it turns out they wouldn’t mind keeping me around.

Rather than go on and on, as I am wont to do, I’d like to just say that it has been my privilege to know you, work with you and that, in a mostly not creepy way, I love you.

I hope we will work together again. I know we will drink bad beer again.

I could go into all my reasons for this, but instead I will just share the following link. I realize this clip is a bit bizarre, but it captures the essence of something I have always believed, starting at the point where the Duke says “But a person needs new experiences …”

God bless you and God bless the Free Press.

Yer pal,

ml

Here’s the note to staff sent by the Free Press, announcing Elrick’s departure:

We’re sorry to announce that award-winning investigative reporter M.L. Elrick has decided to leave the Free Press effective Aug. 10. With Jim Schaefer, Mike was a mainstay of the Free Press team that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for local news reporting for uncovering the text-message scandal that led to the downfall of then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who had once asked Elrick to be his press secretary.

More recently, Elrick has distinguished himself and the Free Press with hard-hitting coverage of the scandals engulfing the administration of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. He also has been among our most active journalists on social media.

And now, Mike will head to WJBK, Fox 2, to do investigative reports. If this has an air of déjà vu, that’s because Mike has once before left the Free Press for TV, spending about 18 months as a reporter at WDIV, Channel 4, before returning to the Free Press newsroom.

Elrick began his career at the Free Press as an intern, writing features, then worked as a clerk in the Lansing bureau while attending Michigan State. After graduating from MSU, he worked as a journalist in New Hampshire and Chicago before returning to the Free Press in the late 1990s as the obituary writer. He quickly made his mark in the newsroom — and was soon covering the rise of the bold, ambitious Kilpatrick, who became Detroit’s youngest elected mayor in 2002.

After turning down the mayor’s job offer, Elrick spent the next several years thoroughly covering Kilpatrick –the credit cards, the Navigator, the texts, the courtroom perjury. In January 2008, the Elrick-Schaefer byline was on the first of many stories that would ultimately lead to the mayor’s infamous admission: “I lied,” followed by his resignation and jailing.

Mike’s newsroom leadership and camaraderie will be missed. We wish him continued success. We welcome the competition. And we’re glad Tresa’s sticking around.

– Paul Anger, Ron Dzwonkowski

Correction: This post originally included the wrong first name for Brendan McCarthy.

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