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Brian Dickerson

Brian Dickerson is best known in the Detroit area for his nearly 35 years at the Detroit Free Press. He retired as the Editorial Page editor earlier this year after an esteemed career in journalism spanning almost five decades.

The Birmingham resident grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and attended Princeton University. He originally planned to go to law school but “fell into working on the daily newspaper on campus,” which led to a Wall Street Journal internship. Journalism hooked him in and changed the trajectory of his life by offering him a remarkable front row seat to court cases, civil disturbances, social change, elections and more.

“I continue to have an abiding curiosity for the judicial process,” he said. “But as an undergrad I figured if I were an attorney, I’d be assigned to one case and as a journalist I could cover many interesting cases during that same amount of time.”

While at Princeton, Dickerson had the privilege of knowing two future U.S. Supreme Court justices – Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Sotomayor was a resident advisor who lived across the hall, and Kagan worked with him at The Daily Princetonian.

After graduation, Dickinson worked at the Miami Herald for nearly a decade prior to accepting an offer in 1988 to serve as editor of the now-defunct Sunday magazine at the Detroit Free Press.

“This part of Michigan is a lot like Rochester [N.Y.] so it felt like home right away,” he said.

Dickerson is married to Laura Berman, who worked at The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The respected journalists worked for rival newspapers during much of their relationship. He has two adult children who live in Michigan – a daughter whom he shares with Berman, and a son.

Since retirement, Dickerson has traveled quite a bit with a preference for visiting people over places. As a skier, hiker and kayaker, he enjoys Michigan’s seasons and outdoor offerings. And, although he’s following the 2024 presidential race, he said since retiring he has “let go of partisan politics” due to the gridlock.

Through the decades, Dickerson witnessed many changes in journalism. “The most fundamental inversion relationship is between media and audience. When I started in journalism, it was a small group of wealthy individuals who owned all the printing presses and decided what was news, and then that would be provided to a captive audience. Now the internet audience defines the news and what they want to hear about. When I entered the profession, columnists at major newspapers enjoyed privilege reserved for the very best in journalism. Now anyone with a smartphone is a columnist.”

Dickerson covered many major events including the controversial right-to-die stories of Karen Ann Quinlan in the 1970s, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the 1990s. Ironically, Dickerson and Berman met while in court covering Kevorkian’s last murder trial.

Dickerson hints that his next chapter will involve advocating for end-of-life care. “I’m interested in the ethics of helping people better navigate the mortality we all share by helping doctors and their patients be more thoughtful. What makes life worth living is intensely personal,” he explains.

Dickerson offers this advice for aspiring journalists: “Be prepared to do a lot of different things for a lot of different employers. The days of working for one company your whole career are over – media companies don’t last that long. Journalism career opportunities are shrinking fast as AI is becoming more and more sophisticated...However, if you are as curious about as many things as I was and am, I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from pursuing a career in journalism.”

Story: Tracy Donohue

Photo: Laurie Tennent


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