Q&A with Matt Riley (International Center for Journalists)

Mastering the Craft of Journalism

Major: Public Policy; Minors: History & German

In this interview by DukeJournos, Matt Riley (’18) reveals how he took full advantage of all the opportunities at Duke, which led him to intern with both NBCUniversal and the Durham Herald-Sun, and finally land his current role as a TruthBuzz Fellow at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

In this Who is DEMAN Interview, Riley explains how becoming an expert in journalism is a lot like carpentry – you have to cut a lot of wood before you’re good at it.

You already have quite the impressive resume for having graduated in 2018! With internships at NBCUniversal and the Durham Herald-Sun, time spent as an investigative reporter and photojournalist for the Duke Chronicle, and now serving as a TruthBuzz Fellow at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)– did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?

MR: Truth be told, I’ve never been certain about what I’ve wanted to do–even now. I have always had a variety of interests, including psychology, science, philosophy, politics, literature and history.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that I took full advantage of all the opportunities Duke offered to explore potential career paths. I’ve worked with former combatants in community development as part of Duke Engage in Northern Ireland. I’ve done public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. It was only in my junior that I realized I wanted to pursue journalism more seriously after writing my first article on a Duke security guard who lied about being a veteran. I saw firsthand how powerful a tool for good investigative journalism can be when wielded effectively and responsibly. That article led me to intern at the investigative unit at NBC, and later to the Herald Sun and News & Observer, where I currently work as an ICFJ TruthBuzz Fellow.

Read Riley’s First Duke Chronicle Article

What is it like working at ICFJ “re-imagining fact-checking dissemination and content creation with the N&O and PolitiFact”?

MR: It’s been challenging and rewarding. For one, fact-checking isn’t on most people’s radar–especially at the local news level. So I’ve had to utilize many different skillsets to popularize this vital form of journalism in North Carolina. I’ve used project management and public relations skills to build a media strategy that creates partnerships with local news outlets across the state. They’re able to run our fact-checking content for free in their publications, websites and shows. I’ve developed my video editing skills to craft social media fact-checking videos for use on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve even taught myself podcast editing skills so I could produce and edit the News & Observer’s Domecast, a weekly state politics podcast with a fact-checking segment. Working as an ICFJ TruthBuzz Fellow requires me to be self-motivated and resourceful to accomplish my project goals.

“Becoming an expert in journalism is a lot like carpentry–you have to cut a lot of wood before you’re good at it. Journalism is all about practice.”

As a young person in the field, what excites you most about the future of the journalism industry and what makes you the most nervous?

MR: I’m most excited by the variety of ways to tell stories in today’s media climate. Advances like 360 video, interactive graphics, and the rise of podcasting are all exciting new ways of telling stories. They are tapping into new audiences, including new fact-checking audiences. And they are telling stories in an increasingly inclusive, nuanced and personal way. All of these are positive developments that I hope will assist struggling news outlets.

I’m most nervous about the threat of misinformation and disinformation campaigns to democracy around the world. Every week there are new reports about electoral interference from foreign powers. Often these campaigns are used to oppress and erode democratic movements and processes. And nobody is really sure how to solve the problem. It’s clear we have a huge challenge ahead of us.

What is your favorite piece you have written at this point in your career and what do you see yourself writing about in 10 years?

MR: To date, my favorite piece is still my first investigative article for the Duke Chronicle. As someone with no academic or practical journalism experience, writing it was a crash course in how to do journalism. I am lucky to have fantastic mentors like Bill Adair and Mark Stencel, both of whom were reporters and editors at publications like the St. Petersburg Times, PolitiFact and the Washington Post. They were integral to writing that article–and they also made it a ton of fun. It was that experience that thrust me into a more serious pursuit of journalism.

I see myself writing more about ethics and psychology in the future. So far, I’ve written mostly hard news. But I voraciously read about philosophy, scientific advances, and psychology. In ten years, I’d like to be writing thought-provoking pieces about fascinating topics like the science behind human consciousness, how to fix our broken mental healthcare system, and ethical dilemmas of the information age.

What is the best piece of advice you have received from a mentor in the journalism field so far? And what advice would you give to a freshman starting out at Duke and considering becoming a journalist?

MR: Bill Adair once told me that becoming an expert in journalism is a lot like carpentry–you have to cut a lot of wood before you’re good at it. Journalism is all about practice. It is a nitty-gritty profession. You learn the most by doing, not by reading about it in class. The best way to test the waters or perfect journalism skills is to just get out there and start talking to people and writing. The rest will come with practice, time, and ample help from skillful editors.