The Record, Bergen County
Emerging Journalist of the Year
By Ashlee Green, NABJ Program Assistant
Young newspaper reporters assigned to dangerous beats are commonly made aware of the hazards within. Part of the job’s appeal is proximity to the action. However, few journalists expect to experience the same misfortune that catalyzes their stories.
Michael Feeney, NABJ’s Emerging Journalist of the Year, faced such a situation the day before Thanksgiving in 2008.
While working at The Record, based in his native Bergen County, N.J., Feeney responded to a fire on his beat only to discover the blaze was at his own home. With his family displaced by the fire, Feeney battled the adversity and continued working. The ordeal was but one of the many instances that exemplified his fortitude.
"To lose everything in a matter of seconds was devastating, but I didn’t let that stop me,” Feeney said. "I worked through the hardship of being without a home for a year, and landed a new job during what was one the roughest years of my career. I think the fire, as devastating as it was, was something that made me stronger as a person – and as a reporter.”
Feeney, 26, joined NABJ during his first year at Delaware State University and served as president of the association’s student chapter on campus before graduating in 2005. He is NABJ Region One’s deputy director and works for the Daily News in New York as a general assignment reporter.
"Whether it’s a murder or an interview with a rapper, I give every article the same attention and report each story thoroughly,” Feeney said. "I’m given the opportunity to do it all. It’s a good balance to have as a reporter. … I feel like I’m bringing something new to the table every time I pitch an idea.”
Feeney’s capability and energy have allowed him to distinguish himself from other young journalists. While attending Teaneck High School, he earned the Mal Goode Journalism Scholarship. At Delaware State, he received the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association Scholarship. His promising beginning led him to receive the Wilson Barton Award for freshman reporters. In 2010, the city of Teaneck honored him with a People on the Move Award.
"I’ve always been a hard worker,” Feeney said. "If awards come my way, I’ll gladly accept each one with great pride. I never imagined that I would be where I’m at this soon in my career. But I will continue to work hard, and if more awards come, that’s great. I’m not in journalism to win awards, but winning the Pulitzer Prize one day would be nice.”
While Feeney’s overwhelming passion for print journalism is apparent, he has embraced digital media as well. He consistently shoots and produces video to supplement his work and displays his diverse capability to also cover pop culture in his blog, mfeenz.com.
"Michael is a catalyst for young journalists,” said NABJ Region I Director Katina Revels, photo editor for The Associated Press. "His writing and visibility as a genuine person of candor has assisted in changing our medium. With less than five years in this industry, this young man possesses and has displayed a professionalism and skill level far beyond his time in the field.”
Always striving to better himself, Feeney attended the intensive Knight Media Journalism workshop at the University of California-Berkley to strengthen his skills.
"Michael represents where journalism is and where it’s going,” NABJ President Kathy Y. Times said. "He has covered multiple beats in print and lives in a multimedia world. His fresh energy and eagerness to learn are the perfect ingredients for an emerging journalist.”
Feeney’s versatility also encompasses his leadership ability. At Delaware State, his leadership qualities earned him the President’s Award for Outstanding Leadership. Outside of his leadership role in NABJ, he also served as president of the Gamma Sigma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. After college, he served as advisor to The Beacon, the college newspaper at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
"I’ve always been someone who enjoys helping others, especially when it comes to journalism,” Feeney said. "I speak frequently at colleges, elementary schools, high schools and other events encouraging students to follow their dreams.”
In less than five years, Feeney has accomplished what he set out to do in 10 years. In the next five years, he plans to be a decision maker in a newsroom.
"I enjoy being a reporter, but I believe strongly that we need more people of color making critical decisions in our newsroom,” he said. "I would also hope to have a few books published with hopes of turning them into movies.”
Despite all Feeney’s accomplished, he still finds time to mentor those who will follow in his footsteps.
"I think it’s not enough to just help ourselves, we have to help others,” he said. "I feel like it’s my duty to help young journalists because I know there were people who helped and encouraged me.”