By Stephen Henderson/Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor
When Michigan voters said “no way” to fixing Michigan’s awful and unfair school finance structure in 1993, no one I knew was more crushed than legendary Free Press Editorial Page Editor Joe Stroud.
For months, he led a passionate campaign for reform, in the face of both conservative and liberal opposition. Stroud believed a steadier funding source and more equity across school districts were about fundamental fairness.
Just before the vote, he ended a column with a note of hope — and of frustration: “I wish, just once, we could get more people to look at what’s in it for the state of Michigan, and especially its children.”
The aspirational quality of that word is what drove Stroud to keep hammering for Proposal A, which eventually became law. And it was the frame for his guidance of this editorial page for three decades — stuff I learned as his intern, later as a member of his Editorial Board, as one of the friends who buried him when he died in 2002, as deputy to his successor, Ron Dzwonkowski, and now as the inheritor of their legacy.
Better schools. A better Detroit. Better mass transit or Great Lakes, better roads or higher education.
It’s the understated governing principle of the Free Press editorial page.
This past Sunday, it became an explicit daily declaration, the name that appears above the newspaper section and website we publish. And today, we start a content-sharing experiment with Bridge Magazine; Ron French's stories about municipal bankruptcies in California will also run in A Better Michigan.
Better, as a comparative term that reflects our unending belief in the ability to affect improvement. Michigan, as the state whose founding the Free Press helped advocate for, and whose future fortunes we’re striving to assure.
You’ll notice other changes beyond the name.
Principal among them is a broadening of the way we interact with readers. Our letters to the editor section is being expanded to include echoes from Twitter, Facebook and comments on online stories.
On our A Better Michigan website, you’ll notice a more prominent placement for discussion. Today’s Talker leads the left rail of the site, and invites readers to debate issues with us — and each other.
Our new editorial blog — with quick takes by Editorial Board members — gets prominent placement on the website, as well as in the Sunday print edition. It’s called In Our Opinion, which for decades was the title of the daily editorial column.
A Better Michigan will also incorporate work from Free Press journalists like John Gallagher, whose book “Reimagining Detroit” will inspire a regular feature that examines the city’s transition and hopeful rebirth.
Kristi Tanner, the paper’s computer-assisted reporting specialist, will produce Raw Data, which will take key statistics — about education or poverty or economics — and put them in the context of Michigan’s challenges and opportunities.
Michigan Reflections will celebrate Free Press staffers’ (and ultimately, readers’) recollections of experiences, moments and places that embody their connection to the state.
We’re also linking arms with other news media and nonprofit organizations that share our vision for improving Michigan. Besides the collaboration with Bridge and The Center for Michigan, we're also partnering with:
* WDET-FM's public radio program “The Craig Fahle Show,” where editorial page staffers will make appearances.
* Michigan Public Radio’s “State of Opportunity,” a three-year project that seeks to identify ways to improve opportunities for Michigan’s disadvantaged children.
* Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that provides high-quality data about Detroit and Michigan, will provide content and help shape Free Press editorials and columns.
* Issue Media Group, which through a variety of publications – including Model D in Detroit – finds uplifting stories about people doing good work across the state.
And the Free Press editorial page will be recommitting to the idea of the editorial campaign — the unrelenting advocacy on a specific issue that Joe Stroud employed for Proposal A and dozens of other policy fights.
A Better Michigan is an important nod to our past — and the guiding influence for our future.