Since she was 15 years old, all Rochelle Riley ever wanted was to be a journalist. The award-winning columnist is among a distinguished list of speakers at the 2017 ASNE-APME News Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.
Riley has worked as a columnist for the Detroit Free Press for 17 years. Previously, she worked for The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
Working for the Detroit Free Press
Riley started her career with the Detroit Free Press in 2000. Since then she’s written about social, political and cultural issues.
“I write about whatever I want and what I want is to make sure that I am writing about what is current and necessary,” she said. “Lately that has been a lot about race and politics, but sometimes it could just be about some kid who helped raise money for another kid by selling ice cream. It’s different every day.”
During her time with the paper and through interactions with others, Riley said she has learned a lot about what it means to be a journalist.
“I have learned that people are people no matter where you are or where you work,” she said. “They are an audience are people you need to respect and inform as well as entertain. A lot of people want to be your friend, some want to be your enemy but the main thing is that you treat them all with respect.”
“Jane of all trades”
Riley wears multiple hats and is not just well known for her award-winning columns in the Detroit Free Press.
The multimedia journalist is active across all platforms. Riley hosts weekday radio talk show on 910AM WFDF in Detroit, makes occasional television appearances on MSNBC as well as local stations and is an author of four books: “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery,” “Raising A Parent: Lessons My Daughter Taught Me While We Grew Up Together,” “Life Lessons” and “From The Heart.”
So how does she do it?
“I’m an American woman. We have been juggling things for centuries,” Riley said. “The biggest thing is just making the decision about what things you want to do and then figuring out where it all fits. It’s like a puzzle.”
Riley also attributes “being a Jane of all trades” to the 21st century.
“No journalist is just one thing. You have to do it all. No of it deals with social media and digital stuff that I do because you can’t work in American journalism now and not do videos and social media,” she said. “I am on Twitter almost as much as Donald Trump and I like it. I like the conversation. I like the urgency. I like the sense of now-ness that you get from being able to communicate at all times.”
Her views on the future
With President Donald Trump attacking the media, calling journalists “dumb” and “enemies of the American people,” Riley said now is the time for journalists to continue to fight for press freedom.
“We have to look out for each other as journalist no matter where we are in the world,” Riley said. “If we are not paying attention to what is happening to other journalists and allowing erosion of freedom anywhere, when it happens to us, we don’t have anyone to fight for us.”
Riley said there might be no more important time than now to work in journalism.
“I think that if we really, really don’t work very hard to stop it, people really are not going to understand the difference between journalism and some of the things that pass for journalism,” she said. “We have allowed it to become dangerously diluted. We have to really work at that.
“If we want journalism to survive then we have to do exactly what ASNE is doing, making sure that we have young journalists coming behind us who are kicking butt.”
Allie Kirkman is a junior at Ball State University. She graduates in December 2018. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.