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Published:February 22nd, 2007 19:18 EST
The Tao of Riley

The Tao of Riley

By Garrett Godwin

As far as she can remember, Rochelle Riley’s dream was to be a journalist.  However, in order to make it come true, she had to figure it out, “How can I be a journalist?” she asks.  “How can I make money?” Rochelle Riley was born and raised in eastern North Carolina.  She was named after the town, New Rochelle, New York, the same place in which the characters Rob and Laura Petrie lived on the 1960s classic sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Her father was a chemistry professor, and her mother was an English teacher; they divorced when Riley was young.  She had two brothers, but living in the South wasn’t easy her.  “It was a spilt decision”, she said, “of being raised as a Southern girl with nothing to do.”    

Still, this “Southern girl” knew that she wanted to do something with her life, and that something was journalism.  However, her high school only had one journalism course, but that detour didn’t stop Riley.  She then went to the University of North Carolina, which has one of the top five journalism programs in the country.

Originally, Rochelle set to be a “hard-nosed investigative reporter” that was determined to uncover the truth.  But while studying journalism at UNC, she switched not majors but decided to write about features and has enjoys writing about people since.  But to Rochelle, it is all the same thing.

“Like any other journalist, Rochelle uses the five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why – and the one H: how.  But she always remembers that writing a story is both “writing about life” and “writing about people.”  “When it comes to journalism as well as writing a story, whether it is crime or feature", she said, "You must also be “'comfortable with people.'” 

Rochelle’s career includes writing for the Washington Post, and with the Detroit Free Press, where since 2000; her articles bring up the sensitive subject of race.  Why write about race? Others keep asking her.  “Because we won’t talk about it”, she responds.  Still, she continues: “As long as I do, I feel like I’m making some progress.”  Besides race, Rochelle also wrote an article several years ago about abortion, which is a complex issue for her to this day.  Though she opposed it as “murder”, she is also pro-choice and believes that women have the right to choose whether or not if they’re ready to have children or not.

And speaking of children, in the early 1990s, Rochelle became a single parent when she adopted an 18-month-old daughter in Dallas, Texas.  Now, her daughter is 17 and a senior in high school, as has been acting for a decade, and is planning to attend either the University of Texas or Mom’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina, where she plans to study to be a preschool teacher.

Rochelle is worried that though her little girl is growing up and heading to college, she won’t have a moment’s peace because her daughter could do what the Huxtable children did to Cliff and Clair on the Cosby Show: come back home and never leave.  “She’ll be living with me for the rest of her life,” Riley jokes.

Sadly, Rochelle lost her father in August 2003, shortly before her daughter’s birthday.  Her mother, suffering from multiple sclerosis, is in a nursing home in North Carolina, where the rest of Rochelle’s family resides.  But despite the dark times in her life, Rochelle found light within her grandmother, who is “a strong Southern woman”, but also a tried matchmaker.  She always tried to married off her granddaughter so she can have great-grandchildren.  “You can date a white guy, if you like” joked the late matriarch when Rochelle couldn’t find a suitable African-American man.

Though Rochelle’s grandmother died in 2000, she continues to be there for her granddaughter now more than ever, especially when it involves writing a profile of someone she just interviewed.  How to write about someone, Riley said, is to introduce the person to her grandmother, “who will fill the room.”  “What would she want to know that no one else doesn’t know?” Rochelle asks herself when writing an article on her subject.

Writing can be tedious for the majority of journalists because it is hard to get everything in your article together from beginning to end, which may lead to being burned out from years of journalism.  However, Rochelle continues to enjoy the grueling process because in the end, the bigger the risk, the greater the reward.  “Its pure joy”, she states.  “I love it, getting that first sentence [the lead]; it’s worth it.”

When it comes to writing articles, Rochelle Riley listens, because there could be her next story.  “There are ideas everywhere”, she said.  “Don’t let a moment pass or a sentence pass”.  To her, journalism is like dancing: you must, as well as make all the right moves and never miss a step.  “You must figure out where you’re going”, she states, and “decide what your focus is and what people will believe.”

Once you start writing everything will fall into place.  “You can go anywhere”, Rochelle continues.  “If you want something, go get it, whatever it takes.  Anything is possible.”

Once you start writing everything will fall into place.  “You can go anywhere”, Rochelle continues.  “If you want something, go get it, whatever it takes.  Anything is possible.”