I have not worked at another newspaper where we do it this way. Not in Chicago, not in Baltimore, not in Washington. Everybody else seems to want to separate news and opinion and make it clear that’s it’s just another part of paper, it has nothing to do with news, and they do it to an extreme. I think Paul’s approach is to say, “Yeah, they’re separate, but they are all part of the Free Press.”
You’re very blunt in your work—the recent line to Detroit’s creditors about the art collection, “Hands off our stuff, you soulless, greedy, scavenging vultures,” comes to mind. Does this ever affect the access the Free Press’ news reporters have to sources—particularly given the elevated place of commentary at the paper?
I was in a bad mood that day!
No, it hasn’t really come up. I haven’t heard about reporters having any trouble, at least. I think people get that there’s a difference between what we think and what we’re reporting. I have nothing to do with telling reporters what they should do and how they should do it. I personally run into problems with creditors, though, and all kinds of people. The governor. The governor and I are not really speaking anymore. Actually, that’s not unusual. [Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer] Granholm didn’t talk to me her whole last year in office.
That’s sort of my job, to take positions and deal with consequences. I spend 80 to 85 percent of my time talking to people, during the day, at night. My approach has always been that the best commentary is informed commentary. I can’t just read the story and decide where the institution ought to come down. I go read all the bankruptcy motions and rulings, and I talk to [Emergency Manager] Kevyn Orr all the time, and the mayor. I know lots of regular Detroiters, too. I see the impact of what’s going on on people who live here. There’s not much difference in the process of reporting and commentary. It’s what we do with the information once we have it. They report it. My job is bring a point of view to it.
Journalism about a city in a fiscal emergency gets right at the heart of the need for open records and transparency laws. How do you see transparency—or the lack thereof—affecting the editorial page?
We are not fans of the laws here in Michigan dealing with open record or public officials having to do their business in public. I actually think that’s one of the biggest problems we have. There are all kinds of things you can’t do in other states than you can do in Michigan. And we seem to be moving in wrong direction. One reason the governor and I are at cross-ways right now is because he signed a bill that says you can continue to hide massive campaign contributions through nonprofits. It’s inexcusable. It’s our government, not theirs. I’m mystified by the idea that you can’t see what’s going on or know how they’re making decisions. Michigan gets a D nationally in transparency laws, I believe. D as in dog.
What is your greatest hope for Detroit?
My greatest hope for Detroit is very easily summed up in the two children I’m raising. What I hope for them is that when they get to be adults, they have a very easy choice about whether to live in Detroit. They don’t feel like have to sacrifice something to live here, that they won’t be safe or have lots of schools to choose from to send their kids to. All of the things that make it tough for me to stay here year after year, and wonder if they have to make sacrifices based on my principles—that they don’t have same issue to worry about it. I don’t think that will be the case. I think it will be better and a little easier. But we’re so far from that now. Really, I see the bankruptcy as a massive move in positive direction that no one else has had guts to do before.
And what about journalism in Detroit, and Michigan more broadly? What is your greatest hope for that?