Alumni Q&A: An Interview with Journalism Alumna Cheyna Roth

Cheyna Roth, Journalism M.A ‘16, currently uncovers exciting news for MLive as an investigative reporter. The alumna doubles as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press and co-host of the public radio/MLive podcast MichMash.

We invited her to share her experiences with ComArtSci and Michigan State University in a Q&A.

Q. When you look back at your life and work so far, what gives you the most pride?

A. Since I became a journalist, I’ve felt great pride in my profession. It’s a career path that for many years I looked at as something I wasn’t good enough to do. I’ve always been grateful I was able to make that leap from the legal world to journalism, and every day, I take great pride in being able to do my part in keeping my community informed.

Q. What inspires you to work toward your goals and accomplishments?

A. I’m constantly trying to improve my abilities as a journalist. Whether I’m working for the Michigan Public Radio Network (which is an NPR affiliate) or the Grand Rapids Press, which is part of MLive, there are always people who are better journalists than me, and I’m constantly trying to play catch up. Reading or listening to really solid journalism is what fuels me to keep going and try to improve in my professional life. 

Q. Could you describe a day in your professional life?

A. Every day is different, and I absolutely love that. I’m still transitioning at my new job, so some days are full of meetings with new community members to cultivate sources. Other days it’s covering events around Grand Rapids. I do try to start my days by looking around for what’s new and possibly worth covering. I keep a notebook I jot down story ideas in and I try and add to that as much as possible and look over it to see what could be dug into that day. 

Q. What are some of the greatest challenges working in your field? 

A. It’s a rapidly changing field. We have to constantly keep up on the newest ways people want to get their news. As a now print-focused reporter, I have to learn how to cover interesting stories good for social media and going to get those hits, while also finding space for those long-term, in-depth investigations. It has been challenging, but I’m lucky to work for an organization that, above all else, values good journalism. As the journalism landscape continues to evolve, it’s important to look at the values of the outlet you’re considering working for to make sure their values align with your own. Again, this is where I got very lucky with the Grand Rapids Press.

Q. What would you consider to be the defining point in your life or career?

A. I’d say when I left my legal career to become a journalist. There were parts of law that I really loved. I was a prosecuting attorney, and had a deep respect and interest in the criminal justice system. But overall, it wasn’t the right fit for me. When I was trying to figure out what to do instead, journalism felt like that great combination of what I liked about law, and what I missed from college – being creative and telling stories. It was the perfect fit and I haven’t looked back.

Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned along the way?

A. Always own up to your mistakes. They happen, nobody is perfect.

Q. What opportunities did you have at MSU or ComArtSci that helped you get where you are today?

A. When getting my masters, I did what, in hindsight, was the best thing I could have done. I reached out to Geri Zeldes and told her I wanted to learn about documentary films. I told her I’d take any work she had to throw at me. Working on documentaries helped me fine-tune my skills in a wide variety of areas – interviewing, story crafting and editing. More importantly, it was a great way to get real world experience. That was what I focused on a lot while getting my masters – getting as much experience as possible. The Capitol News Service class was also great for this, as well as getting an internship at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor. All of it ended up building a foundation that made me very employable when I graduated. 

Q. How do you give back to your community or motivate others to work toward the common good?

A. I try my best to give back to journalism students as much as possible, because I was so fortunate to have a lot of people give up their time and energy for me. I teach journalism at Aquinas College, and encourage my students to come to me as often as they want outside of class. I’ve written letters of recommendation. I also try to say yes to every job shadow request I get, because I want to help students get as much real world experience as possible. By the way, if you are a student, my email is croth@mlive.com and I’m always available to answer any questions you have, or if you want to try to arrange a job shadow.

Q. What are your future plans or career goals?

A. My first book is coming out soon. It’s a true crime collection of unsolved cases called Cold Cases: A True Crime Collection. I’m so excited for it. It’s really a true marriage of my old career and my new one. I loved being able to use my experience as a prosecuting attorney and those journalism skills to explore these cases in a way that I hope is fresh and unique. In addition to more non-fiction, I’d like to move into publishing novels. I’m still quite new at the Grand Rapids Press, and I’m really excited to dig into different projects on a range of issues.

Q. What advice would you give to MSU and ComArtSci students?

A. Try to get as wide a range of experiences as you can. I made a conscious decision when I started my masters program to, as often as possible, say “yes” to the opportunities I was presented with. The result was a great portfolio when I left and it helped me figure out what type of journalist I wanted to be. There is so much you can do with a journalism degree, and there’s no better time to explore your options than while you’re at MSU where you have resources and advisors to help you every step of the way.

By John Castro

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