Aaron Foley is the founding director of the Black Media Initiative at the Center for Community Media at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Previously, he was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, chief storyteller for the City of Detroit, and editor of BLAC Detroit Magazine. He is also an author and veteran freelance journalist, having contributed to This American Life, The Atlantic, Columbia Journalism Review and more.
In 2020, Aaron Foley became the founding director of the Black Media Initiative at the Center for Community Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. The objective of the Black Media Initiative is to advocate for Black community media and to provide paths to sustainability for Black publishers across the U.S. Previously, Aaron was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow (’20) at Stanford University, where he researched misinformation and disinformation in Black communities as well as public funding models to create independent journalism.
From 2017-19, Aaron was the City of Detroit’s first chief storyteller, a new position created by Mayor Mike Duggan to tell the stories of real Detroiters citywide. He managed a team of five writers, photographers and videographers in the City’s media services department producing The Neighborhoods, a new website and rebranded cable channel showcasing the everyday lives and businesses of Detroit’s majority POC population. The storytelling model established at the City of Detroit has been replicated in the cities of Denver, Atlanta and Tampa and has been watched worldwide as other public entities consider incorporating storytelling into public service.
Prior to that, Aaron was editor of BLAC Detroit Magazine, a 35,000-circulation monthly glossy in Metro Detroit, from 2015-17. Under his guidance, the magazine’s website traffic grew tenfold, consistently broke news ahead of other outlets, re-established itself as a voice for Black residents in Metro Detroit and won several local awards.
I’m also the author of “How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass” (BELT, December 2015), a social guidebook for Detroit residents, old and new, and editor of “The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook,” also released through BELT in August 2017.
I started my professional career as a copy editor on the features desk at the Lansing State Journal, where I also wrote columns on being a 20-something (before “millennial” was a thing. by the way). It was briefly syndicated by Gannett, but I’ll still claim the distinguished honor of “syndicated columnist.”
I came back to my hometown of Detroit to help launch MLive Detroit, a new experiment in online-only journalism in a city dominated by legacy print media. In a short time, we became one of the most-visited news sites in the region, building upon an audience that already came to the site for sports and introducing them to our new news and feature content as well. I did news, entertainment and wound down my time as an education reporter, once landing in handcuffs for filming a student fight at a high school.
After three years at MLive working as a web producer and covering education and entertainment, I embraced my lifelong love of cars working as an associate editor at Ward’s Automotive Reports (WardsAuto), an industry trade publication where I covered Fiat Chrysler. Ward’s granted me access to top-level executives, and also allowed me to travel nationwide on press drives.
While working at Ward’s, I was approached by Jalopnik to contribute dispatches about the Motor City. That morphed into Jalopnik Detroit, a (then-)Gawker Media subblog with original takes on the constantly changing narrative of the city. Several of my Jalopnik Detroit pieces have been cited in other media, and my essay, “We Love Detroit, Even If You Don’t,” was included in “A Detroit Anthology.” “How to Explain Living in a Bankrupt City” was republished in a German textbook.
The genesis of “How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass” essentially begins with my work at Jalopnik. I found myself explaining Detroit to those who weren’t familiar with Detroit, given that most of Jalopnik’s audience was not from the area (including readers who were fans of the site and had recently moved to Detroit to work in the automotive industry). After “A Detroit Anthology” was published, I approached BELT about a single-author title about Detroit. That’s how that happened.
Not immune to the challenges of working in modern journalism, I was laid off from Ward’s after a year. I began freelancing for other outlets in addition to Jalopnik, and continued to do so after finding full-time work. At one point or another in the last few years, I was a columnist at Belt/Beltmag.com, contributing editor for Jalopnik/Jalopnik Detroit, a stringer for Reuters, a contributing editor at Infinite Mile, and placed bylines in BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, CNN, Forbes, Thrillist, Foreign Policy, The Root, Ebony, Columbia Journalism Review, Detroit Free Press, BLAC, New Michigan Media (Detroit Jewish News, The Michigan Citizen, Arab-American News, Michigan Korean Weekly, Latino Weekly), Bridge Magazine, Crain’s Detroit Business, Model D, Next City, The Architect’s Newspaper, IXITI, National Driller, Soultrain.com, and more.
My radio and television appearances include Car vs. America, CNN Travel, PBS NewsHour, NPR, MarketPlace, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera America, Under the Radar, WDIV, WJBK, WXYZ, WDET, Michigan Radio, TapDetroit.com, WWJ, WJR, WCHB, 910-AM, WEXL, WKAR, WILS, CJAD, several podcasts and more. Non-journalistic works published in The Periphery and Transmission.
He has been interviewed, quoted or cited in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Agence France Presse, The Millions, The Undefeated, Mass Appeal, Yahoo, The American Prospect, Bloomberg, POLITICO, Publishers Weekly, Critical Read, Israel Public Broadcasting, Le Monde (France), Les Echos (France), Sofilm (France), La Repubblica (Italy), ABC (Australia), GovFresh, China News Daily, Atlantic Cities (now CityLab), The Drive, Grist, Yahoo, Fast Company, Gawker, Vanity Fair, Deadspin, theHUB, Xconomy, Michigan Chronicle, Crain’s Detroit Business, Southeast Michigan Startup, Hour Detroit, Hell Yeah Detroit, Deadline Detroit, MLive, Curbed Detroit, Eater Detroit, The Huffington Post, Capital News Service, The Michigan Daily and elsewhere.
He delivered a TED talk at Detroit’s historic Fox Theatre in front of a crowd of 2,500, has appeared in two documentaries about Detroit, traveled beyond Detroit to talk about Detroit, has had work republished in a German textbook, edited a Detroit-themed cookbook, and has been a consultant or researcher on several Detroit projects, including the 2017 film “Detroit.” He is a frequent panel speaker or moderator, podcast guest and has delivered several keynote speeches across Detroit. One of Aaron’s BELT essays, “Can Detroit Save White People?” was re-published in the 2018 Picador title “Voices From the Rust Belt.” Aaron has been a guest speaker at Bloomberg Philanthropies, South By Southwest, frank, REMIX NYC, Creative State Summit (Australia), Michigan Marketing Summit and more.
Aaron is an AdWeek Brand Star (2019), Detroit Young Professionals Vanguard Award recipient (2019), a Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 honoree (2017), was recognized by the Wayne State University Journalism Institute for Media Diversity for career accomplishments (2016) and the recipient of several Society of Professional Journalists-Detroit Chapter honors.
For three years, Aaron hosted pub trivia weekly, and he also has a rescue cat, Chuck.