Opinions columnist Jason Riley details career journey

Written By Erin Yudt and Jake Dabkowski

In the Center for Media Innovation (CMI) Speaker Series, Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, visited the university and spoke on his career journey and his stance on the media industry today.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y, Riley earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He became involved in the student newspaper his sophomore year after being “dragged in” by the editor upon submitting a letter to the editor piece. 

As a junior, Riley interned at USA Today, and then got a job at The Buffalo News his senior year. Riley joined The Wall Street Journal in 1994 as a copyreader on the national news desk in New York City. In 1996, he was named the editorial interactive editor and joined the editorial board in 2005. 

“New York was a place that I always wanted to live, and the Wall Street Journal was in New York,” Riley said. “I was too intimidated to apply to the New York Times, but I did apply to the Wall Street Journal and a tabloid at the time, New York Newsday, which is no longer publicized, so [the Wall Street Journal] was probably a good choice.”

Throughout his career, Riley has written about politics, economics, education, immigration and social inequality and has experienced firsthand the changes of the journalism industry throughout the creation of new technology.

“The business model has changed completely,” Riley said. “Advertisements were paying the bills at first. Now, newspapers are slaves to digital subscribers and covering what their audience wants to read, not actually sticking to the conventions of journalistic storytelling.”

Riley lamented how social media has become the main source that many get their news from.

“There’s a concern with social media, which is relatively more recent, is affecting old fashioned journalism,” Riley said. “People getting news from their Twitter feed and through their Facebook feed… those streams can do more to really tell you what you want to hear.”

He called the effects of algorithms on news “concerning.” His biggest piece of advice to upcoming journalists and individuals working in the media industry is to “get out of the Twitter feed.”

“You need to watch a bit of everything from everything you can,” Riley said. “We [journalists] owe it to the profession to know where others are coming from, and that’s what makes us a better interviewer.”

He also discussed the current state of cable news and lamented the divide between news organizations.

“The problem is not watching Fox News,” Riley said. “The problem is only watching Fox News, or only watching MSNBC.”

Riley feels that his work as an opinion writer should be the only place for opinions in journalism, and criticized journalists for voicing their opinions publicly on stories that they are covering.

“Opinions journalism should be labeled as such,” Riley said. “I should not be able to go to a writer’s social media and see them ranting about one side of a story, and I should not be able to get their opinion from a news piece because that is not the place for it.”

He also stressed that journalists need to just cover the facts of a story and “trust their audience” to make decisions from their reports.

Riley is the author of five books: Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders (2008), Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed (2014), False Black Power? (2017), Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell (2021) and The Block Boom (2022). 

Riley’s visit was the last scheduled Media Innovators Speaker Series event of this semester. More events are expected to be held from the series in the future.