Written by McKenna Kelley | Photos by Gabriel Burgos
Like most people, Deiah Riley frequently liked to ask “why?” as a young child. Unlike most people, she turned that question into a career.
“I wasn’t satisfied until I got what I thought was the real answer,” Riley says.
Riley worked at news stations around the country following her graduation from Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach before moving to Tampa with her husband in 2003. Being a Florida native, Riley had an idea of the “only in Florida” stories she’d be covering. She says it’s hard to choose just one as her favorite from her 14 years at WFTS.
“I can remember giggling on air while talking about a man in court in Miami-Dade County ‘twerking’ in front of the judge,” she says. “The ‘are you serious’ look the judge gave him was priceless.”
Riley is an active supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and has also been a part of the station’s Taking Action Against Domestic Violence campaign, which raises awareness of domestic violence hotlines and shelters, for the past eight years.
“Because of the embarrassment and shame associated with domestic violence, so many people suffer in silence,” she says. “You never know when someone you love might need the [domestic violence shelters’] assistance.”
While she enjoys helping viewers start the day in a positive way, Riley says her greatest accomplishment is her daughters, Riley and Ryan.
“I see God’s love for me every time I look at them,” she says. “When they yell, ‘Mommy!’ I’m blessed to be able to respond.”
What drew you to journalism, and what keeps you interested in the field?
When I was younger, I was never one to take an answer at face value. I wasn’t satisfied until I got what I thought was the real answer. The hallmark of a good journalist is having a natural intellectual curiosity — an insatiable desire to dig deeper, to know more and to understand why, who or what’s going on around you.
I still feel it! That’s why I still love this business.
As a morning news anchor, you cover lots of important, touching and, with this being Florida, sometimes downright odd stories. What is your favorite story you’ve ever covered at WFTS?
There are so many “only in Florida” stories that it’s hard to choose just one. I can remember giggling on air while talking about a man in court in Miami-Dade County twerking in front of the judge. The “are you serious” look the judge gave him was priceless!
The stories that break my heart or the ones I just can’t seem to forget are always the ones affecting children. The kidnapping of Carlie Brucia in 2004 and Jessica Lunsford in 2005 still haunt me. I was on the air when the news broke that those girls had been found, and the news was not good. I remember fighting back tears both times.
Another memorable story is the monster Seffner sinkhole in 2013. Watching that unfold was both heartbreaking and jaw-dropping at the same time.
Why did you return to Florida, and more specifically, Tampa, after working at stations across the country?
I’ve always loved the Tampa Bay area. When I was a child, my uncle was the pastor of a church in St. Pete, and my family and I would come here often to visit.
Living within driving distance of amusement parks and the world’s most beautiful beaches is priceless. My husband and I moved here from Atlanta in 2003. We haven’t been back there in years because our family and friends are always here visiting us instead.
WFTS-TV and our viewers have been so good to me. There’s great comfort and confidence in feeling appreciated and wanted. I feel that every day, and I don’t take it for granted.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far?
My proudest accomplishment by far — my children! My daughters, Riley and Ryan, are my moon and stars! I struggled for years to get pregnant. They are the manifestation of faith and His favor. I see God’s love for me every time I look at them. When they yell, “Mommy!” I’m blessed to be able to respond.
Do you have a favorite charity or non-profit organization?
My nephew has cystic fibrosis, so the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is close to my heart.
Also, for the past eight years, I’ve been a part of the ABC Action News “Taking Action Against Domestic Violence” campaign. We work directly with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence in our state capitol to create awareness of the domestic violence hotline and all 10 local domestic violence shelters. These centers are saving lives. Because of the embarrassment and shame associated with domestic violence, so many people suffer in silence. By helping these centers, you never know when someone you love might need their assistance.
Who in the Tampa Bay community do you admire professionally?
I was humbled recently when I met Sam Bridgeman and his family. Sam has Friedreich’s ataxia, a disorder that affects the nervous system and the heart, causing a loss of coordination. He graduated in May from USF with two master’s degrees despite being confined to a wheelchair since he was a teen. Watching him rise from that chair and walk across the stage to receive his degrees is what steadfast faith and resolute determination look like.
Sam has the most positive, upbeat attitude of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s an inspiration and someone I admire immensely.
What advice do you give your daughters about their future careers or life in general?
I tell my daughters all the time to treat people with kindness and respect. I remind them of what Maya Angelou once said — “People won’t remember what you said or did to them. They’ll remember how you made them feel.”
Keeping that in the back of your mind every single day, in everything you do, will help you make better choices, and as a result, it will result in a better “you.”
What inspires you?
Knowing I’ve touched someone’s life in a positive way. Knowing that a funny remark or smile or giggle made someone’s day is what keeps me going.