Tonya Mosley was 13 when she boarded a bus in northwest Detroit and took it downtown to the Detroit Free Press to meet editor Bob McGruder in 1993. McGruder, who had been named editor of the paper earlier that year, had arranged for Mosley to spend a day shadowing a journalist.
It was her first time taking the bus that far.
“I was like an hour late, and when I got there, this journalist had actually called in sick,” said Mosley, who is the co-host of the NPR and WBUR radio show, “Here & Now.”
Because she made the trip, she was still shown around the building and got to shadow multiple people that day.
A few years later, while attending Redford High School, Mosley decided she wanted to apply to become a summer apprentice at the Free Press.
“The apprenticeship program at the time was only for schools that had their newspapers printed by the Free Press,” Mosley said. “I actually didn’t qualify to be an apprentice, but I begged and begged.”
Launched in 1991, the Detroit Free Press Summer Apprentice Program hires high school students to work in paid positions in the newsroom for several weeks, while receiving training in the essentials of journalism. Apprentices write articles, take photos and work with the Free Press’ journalists. The 2020 apprentices worked remotely because of COVID-19-related social distancing restrictions. Applications for the 2021 apprentices are open, and due at 11:59 pm May 20. Organizers say this years’ program will be mostly remote.
“The 2020 curriculum allowed the apprentices to get even more coaching one-on-one, in teams, and as a group — because we could meet faster and more frequently,” said Erin Perry, who leads the program and was an apprentice herself in 2001.
“All of them can say they were published and learned about reporting, storytelling and media ethics from more than 80% of the Free Press staff, a few dozen former apprentices, and the staff of the University of Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. It was a busy three weeks. And we’re ready to do it again with the 2021 group.”
Mosley would later attend the University of Missouri-Columbia for journalism school. Her original interest in print journalism soon shifted to broadcast journalism.
“I was a producer for four years before becoming a television reporter.”
She would work in several markets over the next few years until she moved into public radio.
In addition to co-hosting “Here & Now,” Mosley also has a podcast called “Truth Be Told,” where she talks about being a woman of color in America.
“I have always been very passionate and interested in making certain that my voice, as a woman of color, was important, centered and in the room,” Mosley said. “Who else can center your voice better than you?
From Detroit girl to D.C. anchor
That summer, Mosley would write a story about 7 Mile with fellow apprentice Lesli Foster, who is now a news anchor at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.
As a student at Cass Tech, Foster learned of the apprentice program through her high school English teacher.
“I had an English teacher who didn’t necessarily believe that I would be equipped to get the apprenticeship,” Foster said.
Foster was chosen as an apprentice and published five stories in the Free Press that summer.
“I knew that I loved storytelling, and I loved being nosy and asking people about their lives,” she said.
After graduating from Howard University with a degree in broadcast journalism, she used connections she made during other internships to land a job at WEYI-TV, which serves the Flint area. She stayed in that job for two years before moving on to WBAL-TV in Baltimore and then to WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., where she’s been since 2001.
Foster said it was not easy going from a girl from Detroit to where she is now.
“It took a lot of work, both knowing who I am, knowing who I want to be and having goals,” she said. “My goal was not always to be the lead story or to be the bright, shiny object. My goal was to tell the most meaningful story.”
Foster said she always wanted to have an impact on the community. She continues to tell stories that educate people, even when the stories are hard to tell.
“When I talk about journalism, I talk about exploring this vast experience of humanity,” she said. “It requires us to be knowledgeable but also to be vulnerable.”
Marisa Kwiatkowski, an investigative reporter for USA Today, was a summer apprentice in 2002. It was her second experience in a professional newsroom, the first being at a metro Detroit newspaper when she was 15.
Kwiatkowski, a graduate of Henry Ford High School in Sterling Heights and Grand Valley State University, said she worked out of the Free Press’ office in Macomb County.
“Having the opportunity to shadow and work with professional journalists at such a young age really reinforced what I wanted to do with my life.”
Kwiatkowski would secure a full-time job with the Grand Haven Tribune before she graduated from college in 2005.
Since then, she’s worked in South Carolina, and now, she is based in Indiana.
“The longer you do this kind of work, the more you get a sense for what people are interested in, and also what you are interested in and what you think the public needs to know about,” she said.
Kwiatkowski went on to publish what she described as the most-read article in the Indianapolis Star’s history: “The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons.” Kwiatkowski also was on the team that produced the investigation involving Larry Nassar, the ex-Olympic and Michigan State University doctor who is now in prison after being convicted of sexual abuse of athletes.
“The way that I approach investigative work is looking for stories where something is wrong, and where the system is broken, and looking at why the public would need to know about that,” Kwiatkowski said.
A winding path to the anchor desk
Jenese Harris, a reporter and weekend news anchor at WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, Florida, grew up on the east side of Detroit. She spent the summer of 1999 as an apprentice, the same year she graduated from Cass Tech High School in Detroit.
“The very first story that I ever covered … there was a call that went over the scanner about a fire in an alley, and I grabbed my paper and pencil and ran out of the newsroom.”
In fall of 1999, Harris enrolled at Central Michigan University for broadcast journalism, though she would finish her degree at the University of South Florida.
When Harris graduated, she put together mock story videos and sent them to stations around the country, hoping to find her next job.
“Whoever called me first, that’s where I am going to go,” Harris recalled saying to herself.
The most critical thing for Harris’ success has been keeping at the forefront of her mind that journalism is a public service.
“I have always desired to do this because I am representing the public and attempting to get answers for the public and on behalf of the public.”
‘How I built my career’
Jemele Hill, a contributing writer at the Atlantic and host of the “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” podcast, said she still feels the importance of the apprentice program on her career.
Growing up on Detroit’s west side and attending Mumford High School, Hill wrote for her school newspaper. There, her journalism adviser pushed her to apply for the apprentice program. A visit to the Free Press newsroom reeled her in.
“That was exciting,” she said. “That was the first time I had ever been exposed to a professional newsroom. It looked very exhilarating, it looked crazy, and I wanted in on it. When it was time to apply for the apprenticeship program, I was starting to get a real taste of journalism, and a real hunger to do it.”
Hill landed a spot in the program in 1992 and 1993. Coincidentally, her first summer as an apprentice was the same summer the National Association of Black Journalists held its annual convention in Detroit. Hill, her fellow apprentices, and Louise Reid Ritchie, who oversaw the apprentice program, went to the convention. This allowed the apprentices to experience the profession on a grander level. (The 2018 summer apprentices would have a similar experience when NABJ’s annual convention was held in Detroit then.)
“She made us all apply for memberships — for student memberships — and took us around and introduced us to a bunch of different adults and made sure that our résumés were perfect and that we were getting clips,” Hill said.
Ritchie “wanted to make sure that we understood what was expected of us, and the kind of profession that you had to be prepared for, especially being from Detroit.” Hill said. “You really have to make sure that you are on your A game. And that it was a competitive industry, it was not something that was suited for everybody, so I got a real education.”
Working in the sports department, Hill answered the phones, recorded high school sports scores, and wrote articles, which gave her an advantage entering Michigan State University.
“When I got to Michigan State, I already had professional clips in the paper, and that was a big leg up, it allowed me to become a staff writer at the State News. … I worked for my college newspaper all four years. At the time it was the biggest college daily newspaper in the country.”
From there, Hill interned at various newsrooms, including at the Free Press during her sophomore year of college. Later in her career, she returned to the Free Press. She also worked for the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina; the Orlando Sentinel in Florida; and ESPN, where she co-hosted “His & Hers” with Michael Smith and anchored ESPN’s SportsCenter. She took a buyout from ESPN in 2018.
Hill gives credit to the apprentice program for solidifying her decision to pursue journalism.
“I just know the apprenticeship program got me on this path, and I understood it was a competitive field,” she said. “I understood that I had to be experienced, and that is how I built my career.”
With more than 20 years in this profession, Hill wants her voice to make a difference for someone.
“If anybody who’s watching or listening to me is inspired to do this because of the way that I approached the profession, then it’s all worth it to me,” Hill said. “My career has given me more than I could have ever imagined, and the kind of reach and platform I don’t think I could have ever appreciated or contemplated.”
Scouting out future talent
Like Hill, Kirkland Crawford went into the sports journalism.
Now Sports Editor at the Free Press, Crawford was an apprentice in 2001 and 2002. He said the apprentice program is similar to an MLB team’s prospects camp.
“It gives the students a chance to see up close what it’s like to be a journalist, as a writer, photographer, editor and producer,” Crawford said.
Not only did he say the apprentice program helps the Free Press find talent for the future, he also said it helps high school students find what they want to do.
“I’m confident that a great majority of the students that have come through the program remember something that has propelled them for whatever their future career becomes,” Crawford said. “If the apprenticeship helped someone get closer to discovering what they love to do, then our mission is accomplished.”
Lawrence Price and Sydney Neal were part of the 2020 Detroit Free Press Summer Apprentice Program.