Bridge expands statewide reporting team, earns new investment

Fueled by new philanthropic investment, Bridge Magazine has doubled the size of its reporting staff to expand coverage of Michigan cities, intensify publication of data-driven special reports, and help lead a new Michigan nonprofit news reporting collaborative.

Bridge will serve as convening partner for the new Detroit Journalism Collaborative and Michigan Reporting Initiative announced this week by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The Detroit Journalism Collaborative, funded by the Knight Foundation, will help five nonprofit media organizations Detroit to focus on Detroit’s bankruptcy and its impact on community life and the city’s future. Data-driven journalism will explain the city’s financial issues and engage citizens in looking for solutions. The cooperative’s convening partner will be Bridge, the online magazine of the Center for Michigan. Partners in the collaborative include Detroit Public Television (DPTV), Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Radio (WDET) and New Michigan Media.

The Michigan Reporting Initiative, funded by the Ford Foundation, will support the same media organizations’ efforts to cover the impact of emergency managers in other Michigan cities on transparency and accountability, as well as the impact of the emergency manager law on disenfranchised communities.

“We are thrilled to help lead this in-depth reporting effort at this crucial time for Detroit and other Michigan cities,” said John Bebow, president of the Center for Michigan and Bridge. “Bridge readership has grown rapidly in our first two years as we’ve focused on explaining the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of current events and public policy. This new investment by the Knight and Ford foundations is a powerful endorsement of nonprofit news enterprises in Michigan.”

Equally important to the Center’s mission and momentum, the Center and Bridge also received additional investment this week from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to fund deeper statewide public engagement and deeper, data-driven reporting on education, business and economic development.

The announcement by Knight and Ford came on the same day as a federal judge authorized Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings to move forward.

“In this project, we’re committed to focusing on ‘The Day After Bankruptcy,’ in Detroit and beyond,” Bebow said. “How will Detroit and other troubled cities emerge from fiscal stress? On which assets can they rebuild? What policies are needed to aid the rebuilding process? Those are just a few of the questions we seek to address.”

Bridge kicked off the project in November with publication of “Michigan’s Broken Legacy,” a multiple-day series examining how hundreds of Michigan communities face fiscal challenges similar to those that have resulted in Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Bridge has added two veteran, award-winning staff writers to lead our efforts in the nonprofit news collaboratives as well as other journalism projects.

Mike Wilkinson comes to Bridge from The Detroit News, where he was a member of the investigations team focusing on computer-assisted reporting. His work on foreclosures, taxes and migration earned numerous awards as he worked to integrate print and online journalism. His analysis showed that just under half of all Detroit property tax payers actually pay their annual bills, raising questions about the stability of the city's finances and the fairness of its appraisals.

Wilkinson has won national and state awards, including the National Headliner and Gerald Loeb awards, both relating to work uncovering a scandal in Ohio politics that led to 20 convictions and contributed to a complete overhaul of the state’s political makeup. The year-long series, for The Blade of Toledo, was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He previously worked for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, covering education and county government. A 1985 graduate of the University of Michigan, Wilkinson was born in Detroit and grew up in Macomb County.

"I am thrilled to join a team of professionals asking the tough questions that face Michigan and I intend to bring a critical eye -- using test scores, crime statistics, census and economic data -- to the conversation,” Wilkinson said. "Bridge had done some of the best journalism in the state in recent years, having an impact that any reporter yearns to have. I am excited to add my skills to the team."

Chastity Pratt Dawsey joins Bridge from The Detroit Free Press after more than a decade of providing authoritative coverage of Detroit Public Schools. She has broken many of the biggest stories regarding education in the state’s largest city over the past decade. Her work has included analyses of misspending and waste that occurred leading to state takeovers of the school district; investigative projects on grade-fixing and suspected cheating on standardized tests; the impact of the school district’s declining enrollment on neighborhoods; the dangers students face walking to school, and the huge debt taxpayers owe on demolished and vacant schools. Her investigations led to the creation of the Detroit Blight Authority as well as the removal of two superintendents and a school board president. Pratt Dawsey’s work also has appeared in USA Today, Essence Magazine and the Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal. Before the Free Press, the native Detroiter was a reporter at Newsday in Long Island, NY, and The Oregonian newspaper in Portland. She started her career as an intern at The New York Times. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Communications from the University of Michigan.

“The Center for Michigan and Bridge are poised to become a driving force for positive change for citizens who deserve better schools and government,” Pratt Dawsey said. “As a native Michigander, I am honored to have been selected to join this formidable team of journalists bent on informing and uplifting the people I love.”

The addition of Wilkinson and Pratt Dawsey follows the October hiring of Bridge Editor David Zeman, former projects editor at the Detroit Free Press where his reporting team earned numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. The three new staffers join veteran Bridge writers Ron French and Nancy Derringer and a roster of more than one dozen veteran freelance writers to form one of the most experienced newsrooms in Michigan.

“Bridge is performing the kind of important, illuminating, watchdog journalism that is sadly being scaled back or disappearing entirely from newsrooms across the country,” Zeman said. “Adding Mike and Chastity underscores our determination to inform Michigan residents on policy issues that impact Michigan’s future. Our collaborative, nonpartisan approach is truly what sets Bridge apart.”

Bridge’s reporting has earned numerous state and national reporting awards this year, including a national first place investigative reporting award from the Education Writers Association, a sweep of the online reporting category in the Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Chapter awards, and numerous awards from the Michigan Press Association, including best website.

“I believe the Center for Michigan’s greatest contribution to our state is the creation of Bridge Magazine,” said Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan and a Center for Michigan board member. “In an era where journalism is disintegrating and it is increasingly harder to engage discussions on public policy, Bridge has filled a critical void.”

In addition to Dow Foundation support, Bridge’s expansion and the Center’s ongoing statewide “Community Conversations” citizen agenda-setting sessions have been further enhanced this year by new investment from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the McGregor Fund, the CMS Energy Foundation, and the Richard C. and Barbara C. Van Dusen Family Fund. Altogether, the Center has raised nearly $10 million from nearly three dozen foundations, corporations and individuals for its 2011-2015 “Engage, Inform, Achieve” public service mission.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Chris Andrews
Wed, 12/04/2013 - 6:26pm
Welcome to Chastity and Mike, and congratulations to the Ford, Knight and Dow Foundation's support of serious journalism to inform citizens and strengthen Michigan.
Thu, 12/05/2013 - 10:36am
This is wonderful news on all fronts! My favorite reporters keep showing up at the Center. Starting with Bebow, French, Zeman, and Derringer and now Chastity and Mike! Impressive indeed! Great to hear about the grants as it helps show that the good guys do win occasionally. Hope to work with all of you in the future.
Mike R
Thu, 12/05/2013 - 3:39pm
The level of investment by such esteemed philanthropies and the partnership with the foremost Michigan public news media are testaments to the high quality and integrity of The Center for Michigan and Bridge. I am proud to count myself among Bridge's supporters.
Michele Strasz
Thu, 12/05/2013 - 4:59pm
Congratulations to Bridge! It is exciting to see how you have grown from those early days. Keep up the great work.
david zeman
Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:40am
Thank you all for your warm and supportive comments. Please don't be shy about sending us story ideas and story critiques in the future, we love hearing from engaged readers. David
Jan Barney Newman
Sun, 12/08/2013 - 8:59am
This is absolutely great news! Whatever else we've lost, we're gaining excellent coverage of the important issues important for our state. Congratulations to the Center for this great accomplishment!.
RJ Casey
Sun, 12/08/2013 - 1:10pm
Congratulations on these excellent additions to the Bridge, and thanks to the Center which continues to set the pace in public engagement on our state's important issues!
Collette Reid
Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:30pm
Congrats Chastity . Good luck!!!!!!