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The stories behind The Detroit News

This ongoing series will examine the stories behind the storymakers who bring you the news in words and pictures every day.

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Sarah Rahal, Detroit City Hall reporter

City Council President Pro Tem James Tate, left, and Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield chat inside the atrium, at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, in Detroit, January 25, 2022.
City Council President Pro Tem James Tate, left, and Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield chat inside the atrium, at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, in Detroit, January 25, 2022. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
About Sarah
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► Has worked for The Detroit News since 2017.

► The Dearborn native is the proud child of two Lebanese immigrants.

► Is a graduate of Wayne State journalism program started by former News Publisher Bob Giles to promote newsroom diversity.

► Partners with other newsrooms to report on a national caregiving shortage after serving as a caregiver for her parents.

► Works on a side business producing Wonder Falafel in Eastern Market with her husband to continue a family legacy.

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Covering the largest city in the state requires eyes on constantly moving planners, elected officials, and activists.

Since I began reporting on City Hall in December 2020, we couldn’t ignore that Detroit was among the nation’s hardest-hit cities by the pandemic and even local Sinai Grace Hospital raised red flags in the White House due to an abnormally high mortality rate. The pandemic now appears to be ebbing in Michigan, but I still track the state’s daily case totals and emerging variants. Still, it has been more than two years without some of the city’s greatest events.

In that time, Detroit witnessed the re-election of Mayor Mike Duggan and the highest turnover in the City Council since its financial bankruptcy in 2014. How- ever, corruption scandals and FBI investigations have plagued the new generation of elected leaders. Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield told me she aims to restore faith by increasing transparency, accessibility and accountability.

Detroit will soon be home to the Gordie Howe International Bridge, add the Hudson Building to its skyline, move the Grand Prix downtown and begin paying out pension obligations starting in 2024. In the last few years I’ve been nominated as Young Journalist of the Year by my peers. I’m privileged to be a watchdog of our changemakers and document the historic comeback of the Motor City.

It’s why I stayed here after graduating from Wayne State University, because I believe Detroit is a place that’s big enough to matter in the world, but small enough for you to matter in it.

-- Sarah Rahal

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Craig Mauger, politics writer, Lansing bureau

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, at podium, calls for a vote.
Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, at podium, calls for a vote. Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News
About Craig
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► Has written about Michigan politics for a decade

► Political reporter for The Detroit News since 2019

► Lives in the Lansing area with his wife, two sons and a dog

► Is an avid runner with his longest streak of daily runs being 279 days

► Coaches, somewhat mediocrely, youth soccer and baseball teams

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Sometimes, news happens in a press release, on the floor of the state House or in the spotlight of a debate stage. Other times, it happens in a 2,421-row spreadsheet.

Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield rose to power in state politics, partly because of his fundraising prowess. Over his six-year career in elected office, he raised more money than any other state lawmaker. Now, facing allegations of sexual abuse from his sister-in-law, Chatfield’s tactics have been drawing new scrutiny.

In January, we took days to examine his political operations, digging into campaign finance disclosures and tracking every expenditure his campaign and five connected political action committees made. We also obtained tax filings from his nonprofit organization, becoming the first news outlet to report the Peninsula Fund spent $142,266 on travel and entertainment for public officials in 2020. The money came from undisclosed sources, and experts said the situation raised red flags.

In the end, we found that political accounts tied to Chatfield directed at least $900,000 in campaign and nonprofit funds to family members, legislative staffers and organizations they led for wages and consulting fees.

Following the money is crucial to covering Michigan government. It takes time, resources and persistence to not give up no matter how many people you have to talk to or how long the spreadsheet gets.

When I investigate or press powerful people for answers, I try to ask the questions readers want asked. Independent journalism is critical to a functioning democracy, and that’s why I do what Ido.

-- Craig Mauger

John Niyo, sports columnist

Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, and sometimes John Niyo's office.
Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, and sometimes John Niyo's office. Paul Sancya, AP
About John
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► Has worked for The Detroit News for the last 25 years covering college, pro and Olympic sports

► Sports columnist for The Detroit News since 2011

► Lives in Berkley with wife, three kids, a dog and a cat

► Aspiring BBQ pitmaster

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It takes a certain kind of masochist to truly understand what it means to be a Lions fan. It has been 30 years since the team’s last NFL playoff win, the only one this city has celebrated since 1957. And no one needs to remind the football faithful in Detroit what it felt like to watch the Lions’ march to infamy in that 0-16 season in 2008.

But it takes one to know one, and that’s what I kept thinking during Dan Campbell’s introductory press conference as the Lions announced their new head coach back in January. We’d first crossed paths in 2008, when I was the new Lions’ beat writer – my predecessor nicknamed me John 0:16 -- and he was nearing the end of his playing career in Detroit.

Now more than a decade later, here was Campbell talking colorfully about building a team that’ll fight back, and maybe even “bite a kneecap off ” in the process. It was a pep rally that only made sense to Detroiters. But as I wrote in my column, the Lions needed a leader with a personality big enough to drown out the negativity. They also needed someone who understood where they were coming from.

-- John Niyo

Ingrid Jacques, deputy editorial page editor

Several thousand people take part in a women's march on the campus of Wayne State University in 2017.
Several thousand people take part in a women's march on the campus of Wayne State University in 2017. Bryan Mitchell, special to The Detroit News
About Ingrid
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► Deputy editorial page editor since 2012 -- first woman to hold this position at the paper

► Graduate of Hillsdale College and Michigan State University; Hillsdale College is what drew her to Michigan in the first place from the West Coast

► Hails from Salem, Oregon, and would always rather be hiking in Pacific Northwest mountains. But northern Michigan (especially the Sleeping Bear Dunes) has won her over, too

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A topic I return to frequently is the treatment of conservative women. As one myself, I know firsthand the challenges of holding views that run contrary to what is expected of most women.

If you are conservative -- and a woman -- you are often treated as an outcast. And many recent movements that claim to support and advocate for all women purposely leave out those who hold right-leaning views.

This is why I wanted to write about the legacy of former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- a real champion for women.

Ginsburg’s philosophy centered on treating women as individuals and ensuring equal treatment under the law. I believe she wanted this for all women -- not just those of a particular political persuasion.

We don’t all think the same, and that’s OK. I strive to write about a range of issues that matter to conservatives, from religious liberty to school choice to free speech, and offer perspectives you won’t find in most other mainstream newspapers.

I’m proud to work for one of the best editorial pages in the country, where we’ve upheld our conservative roots for more than 100 years. Thank you for helping us continue that important tradition.

-- Ingrid Jacques

Kim Kozlowski, higher education reporter

Preston Welborne El, 22, is a success story of the Detroit Promise Path, which gives Detroit students extra support while attending community college to help them graduate. He is now working on his bachelor's degree in film, TV and media at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Preston Welborne El, 22, is a success story of the Detroit Promise Path, which gives Detroit students extra support while attending community college to help them graduate. He is now working on his bachelor's degree in film, TV and media at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News
About Kim
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► Detroit News reporter for 22 years; covers higher education since 2009

► Graduate of Eastern Michigan University; 2009 Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan

► Allen Park native who enjoys reading, cooking and traveling when not at the cottage she and her husband own in Michigan’s Thumb

► She recently found a half-sister living in Frasier while tracing her Polish and Mexican ancestry.

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Reporters don’t often have a lot of time to work on bigger enterprise stories outside the daily news cycle. When my colleague, Karen Bouffard, won a fellowship to support a passion project, her ambition inspired me.

Soon after, I won a fellowship from the Education Writers Association that supported a project on efforts to increase graduation rates for Detroit students receiving free college tuition. The Detroit Regional Chamber realized that more than just free tuition is needed to support students.

The chamber launched a pilot program in 2016 to help Detroit high school graduates overcome barriers that derailed their college careers. The pilot was part of the Detroit Promise, and gave students a coach and a stipend in addition to free tuition. A national organization studied the chamber’s program, and early success prompted communities across the country to replicate Detroit’s strategies.

My EWA fellowship lead to an in-depth report that resonated when it showed the Detroit Promise pilot fell short of graduating more students, and exposed areas where many students grapple in their quest for a higher education. I also traveled to Rhode Island where Detroit’s strategies were used as a template to help college students succeed.

The project included two unique components: a webinar and a rap. Detroit rapper Gmac Cash wrote the rap for Detroit students on why they should go to college and is now the Detroit Promise’s anthem.

I’m proud of the multi-faceted project to highlight Detroit’s efforts to educate the next generation, and work that still needs to be done.

-- Kim Kozlowski

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