Rising journalism star Michael J. Feeney, a former New York Daily News reporter and immediate past president of the New York Association of Black Journalists, died on Sunday at the age of 32.
The advocate for diversity in newsrooms was about to start his dream job as an entertainment reporter for CNN.com in Atlanta when he fell ill last month.Feeney succumbed to complications of a staph infection in his kidneys, and went intocardiac arrest at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey.
“I am shocked to learn of Michael’s passing,” National Association of Black Journalists President Sarah Glover said in a statement on Sunday. “He was a respected leader within NABJ, having served with distinction as chapter president of the New York Association of Black Journalists for years. His leadership led to that chapter receiving the NABJ Chapter of the Year Award. He was a tenacious journalist who possessed a passion and energy for telling stories reflective of diverse communities stories which otherwise might not have been told.”
For five years at the Daily News, Feeney covered local politics, school-related issues and crime in Upper Manhattan, including the neighborhoods of Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. In addition, he covered entertainment and culture, interviewing celebrities such as Jay Z and Beyonc.
“Mike gave me a long directory of contacts and a crash course about covering upper Manhattan and its diverse communities,” Bruce Diamond, one of Feeney’s editors at the newspaper, said in an interview. “In the more than two years I worked with him, I never stopped learning.”
Prior to working for the Daily News, the Teaneck native reported for The Associated Press and The Record in North Jersey, winning him the 2007 Wilson Barto First-Year Reporter Award. He also covered and news and entertainment for TheGrio.com.
In his commitment to telling diverse and important stories, as a freelancer for NBC News and NBC BLK, Feeney covered the uprising in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.
He took an interest in journalism early on when he attended Teaneck High School. His excellent contributions to the school newspaper landed him the Mal Goode Journalism Scholarship, which went toward his college education at Delaware State University, a historically Black university. Once Feeney arrived on campus his impact on the university’s newspaper, The Hornet, was immediately felt. Due to churning out an unprecedented amount of content, Feeney took over the school paper and quickly rose to editor.
Becoming a prominent voice for the Black community, Feeney was awarded the National Association of Black Journalists’ Emerging Journalist of the Year in 2010. He became a devoted member of the NABJ and in 2011 was appointed presidency of the New York chapter for the organization, serving until December 2015. He was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
Upon the news of Feeney’s death, many friends and colleagues took to social media to honor the young, talented journalist. The hashtag #MichaelFeeney began trending on Facebook.
Throughout his career he gained admiration of prominent New Yorkers, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
de Blasio tweeted on Sunday:
Journalist. Leader. Rising star.
My condolences to the friends and family of @mfeeney.
Rest in peace. https://t.co/RQQtkOPa2V
Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) February 1, 2016
“Mike did everything to help everyone,” Feeney’s mother, Reba Willis, said in an interview on Sunday. “He did whatever he could with any person who he came across who wanted to know anything about journalism and about life.”
She added, “It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow for everyone. He had so much more to accomplish. He is truly going to be missed.”
His mother; a sister, Maria Feeney; a twin brother, Anthony Feeney; a niece; and a nephew survive Feeney.
In a video filmed in 2013 for his alma mater Delaware State, Feeney offered words of inspiration:
I would say that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you were raised, you still have the opportunity to make your mark on the world. You can always do it as long as you believe in yourself and put in your time and effort. You can achieve your dreams.
Sheryl Estrada contributed to this story.