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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

10 Years of Bridge Michigan


Watch Bridge’s Lunch Break celebration of our 10th anniversary (Sept. 29, 2021)

The Center for Michigan and Bridge Michigan marked a milestone by recounting our history, looking to the future and thanking its contributors.

In September 2011, Bridge Michigan was founded with a simple mission: To provide passionate and rooted Michigan readers with honest, fact-driven journalism on the state’s diverse people, politics, and economy. Ten years (and a pandemic!) later, we’re happy to report that we’ve kept that promise.


At the Center for Michigan, we believe thoughtful, credible, widespread nonpartisan civic information is core to democracy. Our publication, Bridge Michigan, has grown into one of the nation’s largest nonprofit news services.

Driving impactful civic engagement (2006-2010)

Longtime community newspaper publisher Philip Power and his wife, Kathy, launch the nonprofit Center for

Michigan with a bipartisan steering committee of experienced statewide leaders. The Center’s mission is to serve as a “think and do tank” to engage and inform Michigan residents and amplify citizen voices in the halls of power to encourage statewide progress.

The Center hires investigative reporter John Bebow as its first employee and executive director. Fifteen years later, Bebow remains president and CEO.

The Center hires AJ Jones as operations director. He remains on the job as operations and production director 15 years later.

With initial support from numerous Michigan foundations, the Center launches the three-year “Michigan’s Defining Moment” public engagement campaign, involving more than 10,000 diverse statewide residents in identifying priorities for the state’s future. The ensuing public agenda report is cited often in news reports and the winning candidate for governor in 2010, Rick Snyder, repeatedly cites the report in his policy agenda.

The Center for Michigan launches the Michigan Truth Squad during the 2010 statewide elections to protect fact and watchdog untruthful and misleading political advertising. The Michigan Truth Squad quickly gains thousands of statewide readers. 

A new approach to civic journalism (2011)

Building on the success of the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center launches Bridge Magazine (known ten years later as Bridge Michigan)

The mission is to publish a few in-depth news reports each week, focusing on public policy issues of statewide import, to help fill a growing gap in in-depth news coverage as mainstream, for-profit newspapers endure a fraying business model and major newsroom cutbacks.

Initial staffing is editor Derek Melot (a Lansing State Journal veteran) and senior reporter Ron French (a decorated Detroit News projects reporter who remains at Bridge Michigan today).

Bridge reports are syndicated in local newspapers across the state to build the Bridge brand and deepen content offerings for newspaper readers. 

The Center for Michigan hires Amber DeLind as one of several public outreach coordinators as the Center continues to engage with thousands of statewide residents each year and publishes annual citizens’ agenda reports on a wide range of policy issues. DeLind remains with the organization today as Bridge Michigan’s membership and engagement director.


Investigative reporting led by Ron French results in “Michigan’s 30,000 Forgotten Four Year Olds,” a groundbreaking Bridge report documenting how preschool provides a key foundation for K-12 success, but 30,000 eligible children are not enrolled in Michigan’s public Pre-K program because there aren’t enough classroom spaces, teachers, or resources.

Bridge’s website ( averages 23,000 readers per month in its first full year of publication.

Proving impact: Helping Michigan families (2013)

In response to “Michigan’s 30,000 Forgotten Four Year Olds” and a statewide advocacy effort, Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature double the size of Michigan’s public preschool program. The expansion continues today, having served tens of thousands of additional four-year-olds. 

Pulitzer-Prize-winning Detroit Free Press projects editor David Zeman joins Bridge as senior editor.

Staff expands with two additional experienced journalists – education and Detroit specialist Chastity Pratt (formerly of the Detroit Free Press) and data specialist Mike Wilkinson (formerly of the Detroit News). Pratt goes on to a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University and, in 2021, is at the Wall Street Journal. Wilkinson remains at Bridge in 2021.  

Bridge averages 33,000 readers per month and earns $10,000 in its first public appeal for reader donations.

Expanding role, reach, and reputation (2014)

Bridge honored with the Communicator of the Year award by the Small Business Association of Michigan and Journalist of the Year by the Wayne State University Journalism Department, which concludes: “Much of the best and significant journalism in this state is being done at Bridge.” 

Detroit office opens at Tech Town to expand coverage in the Motor City.

Bridge averages 58,000 readers per month and reader donations nearly double again to $54,500.

Deepening coverage (2015)

Depth of coverage expands in the areas of education, business and the economy, public policy, government and elections watchdogging, vulnerable children and families, natural resources, health care and urban and rural development.

Responding to a $5 million match challenge from Center for Michigan founder Philip Power, Michigan foundations generously provide $5.7 million in grants for the Center’s public engagement programs and Bridge civic journalism for the five-year (2011-2015) period.

Bridge averages 71,000 readers per month.


Bridge publishes “Poison on Tap,” the first book about the Flint Water Crisis. It includes an exhaustive timeline built from thousands of state government emails. The state-appointed committee charged with investigating the water crisis deems Bridge’s timeline a fundamental tool in understanding the crisis. Bridge’s reporting on Flint earns the McCree Award for Advancement of Justice from the State Bar of Michigan.

Bridge also earns:

  • Michigan Press Association Newspaper of the Year
  • Michigan Press Association Best News Website in Michigan
  • 22 additional Michigan Press Association awards

A new Bridge beat, Michigan Environment Watch, launches to revive statewide coverage of how public policy, industry and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.

Bridge averages 100,000 readers per month and reader donations reach $109,000.

Giving voice and credible info to voters (2017)

Bridge earns:

  • Michigan Press Association Newspaper of the Year
  • Michigan Press Association Best News Website in Michigan
  • Michigan Press Association Statewide Best Writing Award
  • 20 Society of Professional Journals awards
  • And many more

Bridge senior writer Ron French and filmmaker Elbert Lilly produce “Michigan Divided,” a feature-length documentary movie capturing the lives, perspectives and shared experiences of a half-dozen diverse statewide residents split between enthusiastic support for and strong opposition to President Donald Trump. The film earns a regional Emmy Award.

Bridge adds managing editor Joel Kurth a year after he earns Michigan Press Association Journalist of the Year honors as an investigative reporter at the Detroit News. Kurth remains in the managing editor role in 2021.

Bridge earns its third consecutive Newspaper of the Year award from the Michigan Press Association.

Bridge reader donations increase to $128,000.


Bridge’s 2018 Facts & Issues Guide and statewide Michigan Truth Tour informs tens of thousands of Michigan voters around the statewide election.

Michigan Truth Tour mobile news and citizenship van traverses the state to host town hall meetings, discuss local and state issues in local communities.

The Truth Tour and Facts & Issues Guide earns the top statewide public service prize from the Michigan Press Association.

Bridge also earns:

  • Michigan Press Association Newspaper of the Year
  • 30 additional Michigan Press Association Awards
  • State Bar of Michigan Consumer Advocacy Award
  • Institute for Nonprofit News Best of Nonprofit News Recognition
  • 23 Society of Professional Journalists awards

Bridge accelerates to near daily publication to best serve statewide readers’ civic news needs.

Bridge investigations document:

  • How partisan interest groups ran a secretive operation to gerrymander political boundaries – informing voters who ultimately passed a statewide proposal on the November ballot to establish Michigan’s first citizen-led, bipartisan redistricting commission.
  • Racial impacts of state legislature-proposed Medicaid work requirements. The Bridge report led to national news coverage as legislators removed the most severe provisions that would have unfairly impacted urban communities of color but not rural-white communities.
  • Political attempts to remove diversity, equity and inclusion themes from Michigan’s social studies learning standards, prompting large protests at statewide public hearings. The proposed rewrite was ultimately scrapped and reversed.

Bill Emkow, a veteran of MLive, the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-Channel 7, joins Bridge as its first growth strategy director – one of the first such positions created in the nationwide nonprofit news industry. Emkow’s work contributes to 90 percent year-over-year audience growth as monthly readership averages 175,000.

Readers’ donations surpass $200,000 for the first time.

Reader support drives more expansion (2019)

Bridge launches another new beat, Michigan Health Watch, to cover the intersection between public policy and important health topics that impact Michigan residents. Detroit Free Press veteran Robin Erb joins Bridge to lead Health Watch. 

Bridge continues a long tradition of leading the state in education coverage with a groundbreaking investigation of how uncertified substitute teachers, many without college degrees, are responsible for daily instruction of tens of thousands of Michigan students.

Bridge investigation exposes how the Michigan Legislature distributed more than $100 million in political pork appropriations to well-connected friends, triggering transparency reforms.

Bridge earns:

  • Michigan Press Association Newspaper of the Year
  • Michigan Press Association Freedom of Information Award
  • 30 additional Michigan Press Association Awards
  • Sierra Club Michigan Journalist of the Year Award
  • 26 Society of Professional Journals awards

Detroit News veteran Jonathan Oosting joins Bridge to expand and deepen state capitol coverage.

 Bridge launches a full-fledged reader membership program, converting previous transactional reader donations into an engaged membership community of thousands of statewide donors. Membership revenues total $290,000.

Helping Michigan navigate pandemic and election chaos (2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic spurs massive growth in readership as the entire Bridge staff is devoted to hundreds of multi-dimensional reports on the health, economic, policy, and statewide daily life impacts of the pandemic.

Expanding to six-day-a-week publishing frequency, Bridge earns an average of 1.5 million readers per month – a five-fold increase over 2019.

Data reporter Mike Wilkinson earns Michigan Press Association Journalist of the Year honors for his Coronavirus coverage, including Bridge’s daily Coronavirus Dashboard – an essential statewide resource on case counts, vaccination rates and many other COVID trends. Health Watch reporter Robin Erb earns runner up honors in the Journalist of the Year competition.

The Center for Michigan launches a second publication, BridgeDetroit, to cover and amplify the issues and priorities Detroit residents deem most important.

BridgeDetroit, an editorially independent newsroom, builds staff with managing editor Catherine Kelly, engagement director Orlando Bailey, and reporters Louis Aguilar, Olivia Lewis, and Bryce Huffman joining Pulitzer-Prize-winning project executive Stephen Henderson.

Bridge Michigan launches another new beat, Business Watch, to cover the intersection of business and public policy and help employers and workers alike navigate the long road back from the pandemic. MLive veteran and former Michigan Journalist of the Year Paula Gardner joins Bridge to lead Business Watch.

Kelly House, a native of Michigan and a Michigan State University grad, returns home to lead Bridge’s Environment Watch coverage after earning national awards at the Portland Oregonian newspaper on the West Coast.

The Center for Michigan and the Michigan Press Association form a coalition of more than 30 statewide publications and interest groups to advocate for and eventually win transparent reporting of COVID case counts in public schools, allowing students, parents, and educators to better navigate health risks and personal choices of in-person instruction during the pandemic.

Foundations and philanthropies generously provide more than $7 million in grants as the Center for Michigan and Bridge surpass $15 million in total funding for the 2016-2020 operating cycle.

2020 reader/membership revenues more than double year-over year to $766,000.

Positioning for long-term growth and sustainability (2021)

Driving steadily toward long-term self-sustainability, the Center for Michigan adopts an aggressive growth plan to assure membership and other earned revenues account for at least one-third of all revenue in 2021-2025. The founding Power Family and Michigan foundations continue generous grant support.

Bridge Michigan continues daily publication as BridgeDetroit grows to three-times-weekly publishing frequency.

Total full-time staffing reaches 24 professionals, with plans to add several additional positions – including more statewide reporters – in direct response to reader priorities identified in independent surveys.

Katy Locker, a prominent community and philanthropic leader, joins the Center as its first chief operating officer. The capitol reporting team is reinforced with the addition of Sergio Martínez-Beltrán.  

Bridge and the Center invest in a diverse, bellwether Michigan community by opening a new downtown Ypsilanti office to serve business operations, newsroom, and public engagement.

The future Is boundless (2022 and Beyond)

The complexities of today’s society and public policy are immense. The need for credible in-depth civic news and information grows unceasingly as the struggles of traditional for-profit newspapers intensify.

Bridge Michigan and BridgeDetroit aspire to meet these challenges for Michigan by aggressively expanding news coverage, public service impact, audience, and staffing. Not only for next year, but for the next generation.  

The publications will grow as far and as fast as readers dictate. Reader/membership revenue is the driving force for recent growth and the most important factor in the long-term financial health and sustainability of the publications.

Combined, Bridge Michigan, BridgeDetroit and their shared support staffs have an annual budget nearing $5 million. Steadily, we seek to provide enough community value for tens of thousands of readers to contribute and largely cover the annual costs of our public service work. Along the way, we are enormously grateful for the continued grant support of Michigan’s visionary foundation community and our founders, the Power Family.