Media professional and former New York Association of Black Journalists President Michael J. Feeney dedicated his life to journalism, bringing diversity to newsrooms and touching the lives of many in the profession. Feeney died Jan. 31 of complications while being treated for a staph infection in his kidneys. He was 32.
His lifework in journalism started at Teaneck High School in his native New Jersey, when he received the Mal Goode Journalism Scholarship. He attended the historically Black Delaware State University, where he served as editor of the school’s newspaper and a student leader.
A fraternity brother to many, Feeney became a member of DSU’s Gamma Sigma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. in 2003 and served as the chapter’s president.
While in college, he held several internships, including stints at the Cape Gazette, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Associated Press in Baltimore. At his graduation from DSU in 2005, he received the President’s Award for Outstanding Leadership. He landed his first job after graduation at the Associated Press’ Detroit bureau.
He moved back to the Northeast in 2006 and worked two years at the The Record in New Jersey. In 2009 he accepted a staff writing position at the New York Daily News, where he would stay for five years, covering New York City, particularly upper Manhattan.
On leaving the Daily News, Feeney worked as a freelance writer for Ebony Magazine, NBC News, The Record and TheGrio.com. During his career, he had interests in entertainment journalism, landing interviews with celebrities such as Fetty Wap, Jay-Z and Rihanna.
Before his death, Feeney was preparing for a position he had accepted at CNN as an entertainment reporter. He also had aspirations of writing a book.
A dedicated member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Feeney was awarded the organization’s Emerging Journalist of the Year Award in 2010. After receiving the honor, he went on a speaking tour that took him to several Black college campuses.
Feeney served two terms as president of the New York Association of Black Journalists from 2012 to 2015. During his tenure, he strongly advocated for diversity in newsrooms, handed out numerous awards and mentored journalism students and professionals in the New York City area and around the nation. He led the local affiliate to earn the Chapter of the Year Award from the national organization in 2013.
In December 2015, when he ended his term, the chapter honored Feeney with an award for his tireless work as president and strengthening the affiliate’s membership and outreach. He also mentored local area high school students during the chapter’s annual High School Journalism Workshop, First Take, during the fall.
National Association of Black Journalists President Sarah Glover said Feeney was a true leader in the organization.
“He was a respected leader within NABJ, having served with distinction as chapter president of the New York Association of Black Journalists for years,” Glover said. “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.”
Social media has been buzzing over Feeney’s passing since Sunday. The journalist was a top trending topic on Facebook. Thousands of people across the country who knew Feeney reacted to the news of his passing. Several notables offered their condolences.
“Just heard that Michael Feeney, young dynamic journalist died this morning,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said via Twitter. “A good brother and fine journalist. Sad news, RIP Michael.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Feeney a “leader” and a “rising” star in a tweet. “My condolences to the friends and family of Michael Feeney,” he said. “Rest in peace.”
New York Amsterdam News editor Nayaba Arinde said Feeney was professional in his field and was admired by many.
“Here was a brilliant, committed young man,” she said. “What an asset he was to journalism. What an inspiration and compassionate guiding light he was to young journalists. Michael was one of those writers who understood getting to the core of a story was what made it real. He didn’t go for what was popular; he went for what had the greatest need.”
A memorial fund setup online at YouCaring.com raised more than $25,000 in a matter of days for Feeney’s family.
Two funeral services are being held for Feeney, one in New York and the other in New Jersey.
The New York service will be held Monday, Feb. 8, at First Corinthian Baptist Church, 1912 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., in Harlem. A viewing will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., with a funeral service immediately after.
The New Jersey will be held at the Community Baptist Church, 224 First St., in Englewood, Tuesday, Feb. 9, with a viewing from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and funeral services immediately after.
Feeney is survived by his mother, Reba Willis; sister, Maria Feeney; and a twin brother, Anthony Feeney.