I’m the City of Detroit’s chief storyteller, a new position created by Mayor Mike Duggan to tell the stories of Detroiters citywide. Most recently, I was editor of BLAC Detroit Magazine, a 35,000-circulation monthly glossy in Metro Detroit. 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. In summer 2017, I’ll be publishing an anthology on Detroit neighborhoods.
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 (*deep breath*) 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, Metro Times, Model D, Next City, The Architect’s Newspaper, IXITI, National Driller, Soultrain.com, and more. My radio and television appearances include PBS NewsHour, NPR, MarketPlace, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera America, WDIV, WJBK, WXYZ, WDET, Michigan Radio, TapDetroit.com, WWJ, WJR, WCHB, 910-AM, WEXL, WKAR, WILS, CJAD, several podcasts and more. I’ve had non-journalistic works published in The Periphery and Transmission. I’ve been interviewed, quoted or cited in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Millions, The Undefeated, Mass Appeal, The American Prospect, Bloomberg, POLITICO, Publishers Weekly, Le Monde (France), Les Echos (France), La Repubblica (Italy), 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.
For a year, I worked at the ad agency Team Detroit (now known as GTB) as a copywriter, primarily working on the Ford account. While there, I came up with a name for Ford’s electric bike, the MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro. (Perhaps if I had stuck with it long enough, I could have named a sedan, at least.)
I moved to the editor’s chair at BLAC in December 2015, the same month my book was published. (Never start a new job and publish a book at the same time, kids. Your free time will disappear.) While at BLAC, I made it a priority to increase posting on BLACDetroit.com. Some braggy stats: We grew traffic 300% in a year and consistently broke news ahead of other media outlets.
I delivered a TED talk at Detroit’s historic Fox Theatre in front of a crowd of 2,500 (see above), have appeared in two documentaries about Detroit, traveled beyond Detroit to talk about Detroit, have had my work republished in a German textbook and have been a consultant or researcher on several Detroit projects, including a forthcoming Hollywood film on the 1967 riots. I’m a frequent panel speaker, podcast guest and have delivered a keynote speech here and there. One of my BELT essays, “Can Detroit Save White People?” is due to be re-published in the 2018 BELT title “Voices From the Rust Belt.”
I currently sit on the boards of Signal-Return, a letterpress in Detroit’s Eastern Market and the United Negro College Fund’s Detroit Inter-Alumni Council. I am a Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 honoree, was recognized by the Wayne State University Journalism Institute for Media Diversity for career accomplishments and the recipient of several Society of Professional Journalists-Detroit Chapter honors.
I host a pub trivia night each week and have a rescue cat, Chuck.
Want to chat? I’m at aaronkfoley(at)gmail(dot)com. (May 2017 update: PR/MARKETING FOLKS — PLEASE DO NOT SEND PITCHES TO THIS EMAIL. DO NOT SUBSCRIBE THIS EMAIL ADDRESS TO ANY LISTS. FOR CITY OF DETROIT INQUIRIES, CLICK HERE.)
(Look! Here’s a few pictures of me that you should credit to my dad, Kenneth B. Foley.)