Rising Star Katrease Stafford is the city government reporter for the Detroit Free Press. She spends much of her day juggling traditional reporting and fact checking with social media and building an engaging personal brand. She loves that no two days are ever the same. “I might spend my entire day chasing breaking news on Monday and shift to working solely on an enterprise story or project the next day. It’s unpredictable and I have a front row seat to history every day. I love what I do and I feel so fortunate to live my dream daily,” Katrease says. Get to know this amazing woman with this edition of Alliance 5 Answers.
1. What drew you to the media? How early on did you know this was what you wanted to do with your life?
I was drawn to journalism at an early age. My father bought copies of the Detroit Free Press almost daily, which eventually sparked my curiosity about the craft. I was fascinated by the way reporters wrote and I dreamed that I would one day be able to do the same thing. But it was a family trip to Washington, D.C. when I was about 10 years old that sealed the deal for me. We were walking around the U.S. Capitol Rotunda when we spotted former broadcast ABC News reporter Carole Simpson prepping for a shoot. She was one of a very few African American women journalists to grace television at the time, so it meant the world to actually meet and take a picture with her. She gave me some great advice and told me to dream big and work hard. She probably doesn’t remember that chance encounter, but she’s a trailblazer and for 10-year-old me, she had a profound impact and laid the foundation for me to later become a journalist.
2. What project in the last year are you most proud of and why?
A little more than a year ago I was named the Free Press’ city government watchdog reporter. Not long into my new role, I wrote my first major investigative piece related to the investigation of the Hardest Hit Funds program. I started hearing a lot of different concerns from contractors – specifically black contractors – who have participated in the program, who felt they hadn’t been receiving a fair share of these public, federal dollars. So, I sifted through more than 10,000 public demolition records to determine just how many dollars have gone toward black contractors. I found that less than 16 percent have gone toward black-owned companies, which has raised concerns since Detroit has nearly an 80 percent black population. I thought the story was important to tell because you often see black voices, as well as other underrepresented groups, get lost in coverage locally and nationally. The story of Detroit’s revitalization is true and real in many aspects but it’s important to give this national narrative some context and show that not everyone feels they have a true place in the city’s recovery, yet.
You can read it here.
3. You’re very decorated for so early in your career; do you have any big goals or “bucket-list items” you want to accomplish in your career?
Like many journalists, I dream of one day breaking into the national circuit of reporting but for now, I’m happy where I am and look forward to continuing to grow under the talented leadership of Free Press Executive Editor Peter Bhatia, who has led multiple Pulitzer Prize winning newsrooms prior to coming to Detroit. I do have a bucket list goal to eventually write a book. I’m also working to find a way to mesh together my love of writing with public speaking engagements, as well as offering expert analysis in the broadcast journalism realm, which I’ve been able to do on and off the past four years. Detroit is honestly an amazing news town.
4.Where do you see the future of news media going?
I’ve been in the industry for less than seven years and I’ve already witnessed my fair share of ongoing downsizing in newsrooms across the nation. It’s scary and yes, the industry is in flux, but I’m an optimist. I think, like many other industries that have gone through rapid changes, journalism will continue on. Maybe not how we’ve come to know it, but in some form. I’m in awe of how many media outlets have already found new, stunning ways to tell stories across multiple platforms and I think that type of creativity combined with strong and impactful journalism, is truly the future of news media.
5. You’re on the board of the Eastern Echo (the independent student newspaper of Eastern Michigan University) – why is mentoring important to you?
As a board member of the Eastern Echo, I provide ongoing oversight and advice to the student journalists who run or work at the paper. It’s kind of a full circle moment for me because the Eastern Echo is where I got my first real start in journalism when I was in college. It means the world to have the opportunity to help grow what I hope is the next crop of journalists. Journalism is a tough field to break into, but especially for journalists of color. I believe there continues to be a lack of diversity among some of the more coveted beats and investigative roles, as well as management. And when you don’t have those important voices in your newsroom, your coverage lacks necessary perspective – especially if you’re in a community with a large minority or underrepresented population. I think engaging and mentoring a diverse group of younger journalists at an early stage in their career can help create a pipeline of talent and make it harder for companies to claim it’s tough to find people who can fill these roles. I’ve had the great fortune of having several amazing mentors, including my former Eastern Michigan University journalism professor Carol Schlagheck; USA TODAY Network Executive editor for local news Amalie Nash; and longtime Free Press Columnist Rochelle Riley. Each of them in their own way have poured confidence and support into me and I want to be a similar resource to others.
Kirsten is the Social Media and Blog Editor at the News Media Alliance.