- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Free Press columnist Stephen Henderson, who has been willing to criticize powerful interests to defend average citizens of the troubled city, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his commentary on the city’s financial crisis, it was announced Monday.

The Pulitzers are given out each year by Columbia University in New York on the recommendation of a board of journalists and others.

In their announcement of the award for commentary, prize organizers said that the Detroit native’s columns on Detroit’s bankruptcy were “written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique.”

The city of 700,000 is operating under a state-appointed emergency manager and struggling to provide some basic services as it goes through federal bankruptcy proceedings to reduce $18 billion in debt. Detroit has lost 1.1 million residents since the 1950s and much of its tax base.

Paul Anger, the Free Press‘ editor and publisher, said Henderson has brought a mixture of eloquence, wisdom and heart to his job as the newspaper’s editorial director and editorial page editor since 2008.

“It’s a combination of great journalism, very, very deep skills as a thinker and writer and a commitment to Detroit that he feels in his soul,” Anger said.

Detroit as a community needs all kinds of leadership, and I think Steve has been a very strong voice and a leader in his own right,” Anger said. “He has been a strong advocate for Detroiters and making their lives better.”

Henderson downplayed the personal aspect of the prize, telling WWJ-AM that he functions as part of the newspaper’s team coverage of Detroit.

“My work is dependent on theirs,” he told the station.

In a column last Wednesday, Henderson took a swipe at creditors’ efforts to put Detroit’s art collection - which includes works by such celebrated painters as Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissaro - on the bargaining table.

“The buzzards keep rearing their heads in Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings,” he began.

Henderson accused the Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., which was involved in risky credit swaps that created hundreds of millions of dollars in municipal debt of “holding its own make-believe lawn sale for the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts.”

The art, he concluded, “ought to stay exactly where it is, in the museum that collected it for the people of this city.”

Henderson, 43, is a graduate of University of Detroit High School and the University of Michigan.

He has worked as a reporter, editorial writer and editor for the Free Press, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. He spent four years covering the U.S. Supreme Court for the Knight Ridder Washington bureau.

Story Continues →