Remembering Mike Feinsilber: Journalist, mentor and beloved ‘nitpicker’

Mike Feinsilber poses for a portrait on Oct. 10, 2007. Feinsilber, whose masterful way with words and mischievous wit enlivened American journalism for five decades, the bulk of them at The Associated Press, died Monday, April 1, 2024. He was 89, a month short of his wish to make it to 90. (AP Photo)

Mike Feinsilber was among the hundreds of journalists who volunteer their time as mentors for our Report for America corps members. Sadly, Mike passed away this spring. Yet, as one of our alumni shares, his impact lives on. 

By Clara Hendrickson

I miss my “nitpicker.” That’s what my Report for America mentor Mike Feinsilber called himself. 

When Mike died, I lost one of my biggest champions and my most thoughtful critic. He carefully read nearly everything I wrote, noting his favorite sentences and offering blunt feedback about how I could have improved each piece. 

“The nitpicker strikes again,” he wrote in the subject line of an email scrutinizing one of my pieces. I thanked him for his comments. “Please keep the nitpicks coming,” I wrote back. 

And he did. In emails, phone calls and meals shared over the course of about four years, he made me a better journalist. 

Mike Feinsilber, former news editor and assistant chief of bureau for news, The Associated Press

While I started my reporting career in a news industry that had already transitioned online, Mike was a man from the print era who reminded me of the advantages of a physical newspaper for readers. “I know the internet takes an infinite amount, but readers don’t,” he told me once in response to an unnecessarily long story.  

Mike worked for United Press International before moving to the Associated Press where he worked as a reporter, editor and assistant Washington bureau chief for the wire service. 

He told me that during his reporting days, he kept a picture in his head of his reader as he wrote. He imagined competing with the distractions pulling at a reader’s attention by cutting through with clear and accessible language. 

We exchanged news stories, critiqued ledes and shared book recommendations. He was a devoted mentor who provided constant encouragement even when covering politics in a battleground state proved taxing. 

He also taught me the importance of cultivating hobbies and a life outside of work. In an essay he wrote, he recounted picking up a love for baking after eating some homemade bread from a rival reporter he befriended while covering the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry against then-President Richard Nixon. Just before Thanksgiving in 2020 — a tumultuous period in that year’s post-election cycle and a stressful time at work — Mike sent me his favorite recipes for French bread and rolls. 

Mike celebrated when my three years as a Report for America corps member ended at The Detroit Free Press and the newspaper brought me on as a full-time staff reporter. 

Just as I began my career in journalism, Mike showed me what I could look forward to if I’m lucky enough to retire from this industry: an extensive inventory of fond memories from working in a newsroom and lessons learned from decades of reporting to pass on to the next generation.

. . .

Clara Hendrickson covers Michigan politics with a focus on the governor’s office and the state Legislature. She has previously covered voting rights, election administration and redistricting in Michigan. She came to The Detroit Free Press by way of Report for America to fact-check Michigan issues and politics in partnership with PolitiFact during the 2020 election.