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I’m an auto writer for The Detroit News. I specifically cover General Motors Co., but I also follow industry issues, the United Auto Workers and other business news for the paper.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
The last six months have been all about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affecting the industry. We will continue to cover that, but we are starting to write about how Detroit automakers are moving forward. Ford Motor Co. just unveiled the new Ford F-150 and the Bronco, which the automaker brought back from the dead to much fanfare. GM is bringing back the Hummer in an electric form and will debut it later this year. The automaker recently showcased its Cadillac Lyriq, an electric crossover that will hit showrooms in late 2022. There’s a lot of new product coming to get excited about right now. The industry is going through major changes with electrification, autonomy and connectivity. It’s a very exciting, yet challenging time for the automakers. Everyone should be watching.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
Last fall we were covering both the UAW strike and the corruption investigation at once. That whole experience was crazy and intense. We had a strike story every day. I appeared on CNN and was featured in NPR’s On Point.
What story or stories are you most proud of?
When the virus started to spread like wildfire in the U.S., UAW President Rory Gamble started to send out updates to the membership about autoworker deaths believed to be caused by the virus. My colleague created an excel sheet to document the deaths and where these autoworkers worked. There was a lot of pressure on automakers to make sure their workforce felt safe about returning, especially at plants with workers who died from the virus. We noticed FCA’s Sterling Heights plant was the hardest hit in our list and started to investigate the deaths. We didn’t have names of the deceased. We only knew where they worked and when they likely died. It was like putting a puzzle together. We dug through Facebook and found posts about those who died. We connected with some workers who told us some names, often nicknames, for people. Finally, we found the family members of two Sterling Heights workers who died from the virus. They talked to me for hours about their loved ones and we wrote a piece about the Sterling Heights Assembly family in mourning. I’ll never forget talking to those families about their loved ones. Many Detroiters work for the automakers and there was, and probably still is, a real fear that the virus can easily spread at the plants.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
I see the auto industry through the people. I want to write stories that thoroughly explain what’s going on and how it impacts them. I’m not from Detroit, but I am from a town where GM was the major employer for 50 years until it closed the Lordstown, Ohio plant down in March 2019. I know how important this industry is to many communities. The health of the auto industry portrays the health of our economy, so I want my stories to explain the decisions automakers are making, why they are making them and what analysts think about those decisions. The choices that the company leadership teams make today will have an impact on the future prosperity of these companies, the cities they touch and the entire nation.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
I’ve been working as a professional reporter for seven years. I got started at hometown paper, The Vindicator of Youngstown, Ohio, which is now defunct. I worked there five years, covering the GM Lordstown plant for most of my time there. We had a small staff but a dogged reputation. Our reporters were always hitting the streets for scoops, questioning authority and writing multiple stories a day. It was an exhausting, yet exhilarating experience. It’s a time in my life I will always cherish. I left The Vindicator in April 2018. It was the worst day of my life, but little did I know the paper would close by August 2019. The Vindicator was the paper I grew up reading with my grandmother. I firmly believe that experience gave me an itch for news at a young age. After I left The Vindy, I worked for a small paper in Battle Creek, Michigan as an enterprise reporter and attended MSU for a master’s degree in journalism. I always knew I wanted to make my way to The Detroit News and bugged the editors there for years until an opening came up and they hired me in July 2019.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …
Probably organizing. I find it very relaxing to put things in the right place. I’ve worked retail jobs while working full time as a reporter just because I like to fold clothes. I also enjoyed the discounts. Nature walks, baking and playing with my cats are also some of my favorite hobbies.
What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
Make sure to spell my name right: Kalea. It’s pronounced: Kay-lee. Blame my parents.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
Reporters always like it when you get back to them within the hour with even an acknowledgment you are working on getting answers. I don’t like it when I don’t know if you’ve received my request. I would always reply with: “Checking on this for you.” At least we know you received it and understand our deadline.
Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)
I just bought a house in Rochester Hills with my boyfriend of five years. We have two cats, Nellie Bly and Mundo. I’m a people person. I love to throw parties and make friends, which is difficult in the age of COVID. I’m a major newspaper geek and the future of the industry keeps me up at night. Please support local news.