Meet Kyle Smedley, a junior in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication majoring in Journalism and Telecommunications with a concentration in News and two minors: sports studies and film and screenwriting.   

Throughout his time at Ball State, Smedley has become an accomplished journalist with The Ball State Daily News. Last fall, Smedley won the Keating Competition, and recently, he was awarded the Pulliam Fellowship, which he will begin this upcoming summer.  

Smedley’s philosophy for writing impactful articles on and off Ball State’s campus centers around the people he’s writing about. He focuses on “highlighting them as people, that’s what separates storytelling for me.”   

Smedley sat down with CCIM Outreach Office Student Worker and Senior Communication Studies major Maggey Parker to talk about his work, experiences, and future plans. 

Tell me about your journey to Ball State, what led you here? 

I’m from Muncie. I’ve lived here my whole life. I went to Yorktown High School, which is about 12 minutes away, and a lot of people in my family have gone here. I think maybe as many as 10 have gone to Ball State. Most of them graduated from the Teacher’s College. When I was a kid, I didn’t want to go to Ball State because I wanted to do something different.  

But then I got to my senior year, second semester, and I was like, “I’ve applied, and I’ve been accepted at Ball State, IU, IUPUI, but really, what do I want to do?” And I’m not the type to go in with an undecided major; I kind of need a plan. Even if it was a plan that didn’t work and I could abandon it, I guess I would feel better. And so, I just thought about what I am good at in school, and I was always good in English class. I always got good comments and feedback on essays from my teachers, and I’ve always loved film and sports in just any form. I loved reading as a kid, just any form of storytelling in general. So, I’m just like, “How can I combine the two?” And I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll just go into journalism and see what happens.” 

Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written at The Ball State Daily News? 

My favorite story that I’ve written for Ball State would be when I got connected with Justin (Gillespie) last year; he graduated from Muncie Central. He’s the same age as me. So, last year he would have been 19, and he had 75% kidney failure. His kidneys were shutting down. He was going to dialysis multiple times a week. He was just living a tough life; I mean, he couldn’t do much because he was so tired all the time. He had so many dietary restrictions, and they were trying to raise money to get his kidney replaced. But the wait list is so long because so many people have to do it, and there are such limited opportunities. I was able to go to his house and sit down with him, his mother Garnisha, and then his father and grandfather.   

It was such a rich family. I mean, they loved each other so much. And really, you wouldn’t be able to tell what had happened and what had been going on. But some of the stories that he told me about the things that he had been through with kidney failure were crazy. 

I’m reminded of another story I just did for The Ball State Daily News, where I wrote a story about athletes on campus who have children. They’re student-athletes and are competing, but they have children to take care of as well. On last year’s football team, six players were either fathers or expecting, and talking with them was really nice.   

There’s a cheerleader who has a child, and she’s out there as a flyer, stunting, tumbling, doing all those things. And she’s got a 2-year-old. She’s given birth. That just was crazy. And it was a story I felt like we had to tell, and then we were able to do a video after where we kind of followed her around for a day in her life, got to see her take her daughter to daycare, she’s a full-time teacher at Muncie Community School Elementary School, she’s a master’s student, a cheerleader, I mean all those things, so we just were like, “Can we follow you around for a day to see how crazy busy your day is?” It was really busy, but it’s also just really nice to show that there are students at Ball State who are doing these real-world things. 

What is your favorite story you wrote for your freelancing experiences?  

For my favorite story professionally, I interned for the Herald Bulletin last summer. It’s a newspaper in Anderson, Indiana. And I actually got a story published on the paper’s front page, which was really cool. I did mostly sports stuff over there, and this one was more than sports. They put it in the news section. Because there was an athlete at Shenandoah who had gone through a lot, I guess her younger brother had tried to take his own life multiple times in the house. Both of her parents, or I guess her mom and her stepdad, had struggled with alcoholism for a long time. I think she was one of at least three, if not four, siblings. She kind of had to take care of everyone in the house because her parents were not sober, and then she was able to convince them to seek help, get sober, and then see the progression as they get sober, and they start to become a family again. That was probably the most hard-hitting story I’ve done as far as tackling real issues like suicide and addiction. And those stories are hard to write because you want to do the source’s justice. 

Can you tell me about the Keating Competition? 

The Keating Competition started in 1986 through the Indiana Press Club Foundation and is intended to assist college students with a strong interest in journalism. Only ten students across the entire state are asked to attend. The daylong contest judges the attendees based on an original impromptu feature reported, written, and submitted within five hours, and the winner is awarded with a cash prize. Kyle’s winning piece can be read here. 

Kyle proudly displays his first place certificate at the Keating Competition reception.

The Keating competition was last fall; I applied for it in September. They only accept 10 people from colleges across the entire state, and I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 10, which was just crazy. But we got to go down and meet with some professional writers, people who work for publications like The Athletic, The Indy Star, and a paper out in Pittsburgh. There are so many really talented professional writers, and you’re assigned a specific mentor the night before. Then you mingle with all the other journalists who are your age, who are doing the same thing you’re doing across the state and forming those relationships. The next day, you have to meet in the lobby at 9 a.m. and they give you your story topic right there in the lobby. They don’t tell you the day before. 

They tell you your story topic, and you have to have it done at 2 o’clock. And this one was a broad topic. I believe it was to just go tell a story about either a place or people, and that was nice for me because I know Indianapolis. And there’s this really nice old deli there called Shapiro’s, which has been there for more than a hundred years. And I had just been to eat there with my friend two weeks before. And so, (when they gave the prompt) I was like, “That’s where I’m going, man, their food was awesome, but the atmosphere was even better.”   

The city of Indianapolis is so big. Having small places that are well known but still hubs of community is really cool. So, I tried to capture that. It was funny because I was nervous because I was the first one done with interviews. So, you get done with the interviews, and then you go to the Indy Star, sit in a conference room, and write. And I was the first one done with interviews. I was like, “Oh man, did I not get enough?” I was there for an hour and a half. Should I have been there longer? First one there, first one done writing; I think it was due at 2 p.m., and I finished at 12:30, and I was like, “Man, I feel like I finished too fast, but this is the best I can do.” 

How did it feel when you found out you won?  

When they announced that I had won, I just remember (my dad) turned around and looked at me, and he was smiling, but he was crying, which was just one of the best moments of my life. The coolest thing was seeing how happy my parents and my girlfriend were; they were just buzzing about how happy they were. I called Lisa (Renze Rhodes, former manager of Unified Media at Ball State), she’s the first person I told out of anyone that wasn’t there. I called her when I got to my car, and she started screaming — that was the best part was the people around me being happy because I couldn’t have done it without them. I know it’s cheesy to say, but it’s true: I can’t do anything by myself. So, yeah, it was a really fun experience.   

You’ve also been selected for the Pulliam Fellowship for this upcoming summer, can you tell me about what you’re most excited for?  

The Pulliam Fellowship is for juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled in a journalism or related degree program. The Indianapolis Star, The Arizona Republic, and Gannett Co. Newspapers seek out students with a passion for reporting, digital production, audio, and photojournalism, providing internships and experiences that allow students to gain a deeper understanding of what their future in journalism may look like through working alongside established professionals. 

Kyle poses with his award in front of the WE FLY wings.

I’m really excited because it’s going to be the biggest area I’ve ever worked in. Things like the Indy 500, Indiana Pacers, Draft workouts, the Indiana Fever, I mean, you name it, just bigger things. And, hopefully, what I’m wanting to do is cover those bigger things but continue to find the underrepresented stories that don’t get told anywhere else. Because that’s the biggest thing. When I think back to those three stories I mentioned earlier, it’s like, “Who else is telling a story in Delaware County, who else is telling a story about a 19-year-old kid who has 75% kidney failure? Who else is telling a story about three student-athletes who have children?” Those are the stories that are nice because you can’t find them anywhere else. It’s not only that I like doing those stories, but that’s the job; that’s serving your readers by giving them something that they can’t find anywhere else.   

Do you have any specific goals for your time as a part of the fellowship? 

Yeah, there is one specific goal I have in particular for the Pulliam Fellowship, and this one is right out of the gate: (covering) the Indiana Fever’s first home game or first game of the year. Another big goal is to work on a feature throughout the entire course of the fellowship — really dedicate time every week and then publish a big enterprise feature at the end of the fellowship. That would be a really nice clip to have for the future and also prove to them that I can stick around after the fellowship technically ends.  

Before your fellowship starts, what goals or accomplishments are you hoping to achieve by the end of this semester?  

By the end of this semester, I would like to find something a little bit deeper with the men’s basketball team, finding something that maybe I don’t even know about yet, but something that we can really tap into and dive deep into.  

Professionally, I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is freelancing at least once a week, writing two features a month, and really upping my quality of work and quantity at the same time. 

Do you have any exciting projects that you’re actively working on right now that you’re excited to see come out? 

I’m in the process of finishing up a story on Mason Jones, who’s a freshman basketball player. I would like to start a story that I’m going to co-byline with one of my colleagues, which we’ll write together about the Muncie Inn, which is a motel that recently closed in Muncie. It housed a lot of impoverished people in the community, and now they don’t have a place to live, or they’re struggling to find a place to live. And then also I’m going to start working soon on a story about the history of the Muncie Fieldhouse. That place is almost a hundred years old; there’s so much history there for Muncie Central basketball. And so, I really want to not only talk to current players and coaches but also find some people from history who played there a long time ago and kind of know what it’s all about. 

Do you have any advice for prospective students or freshmen coming in? 

One thing is just to make connections; you have to put yourself out there and meet new people and make those connections. Like I said, networking is everything. It’s really everything in any industry, but especially in journalism. It really is about who you know, whether it’s a professor, colleague, or mentor.   

As far as work itself goes, just get started as soon as you can. I know there are a lot of people who are nervous to start because they’ve never done it before, or they don’t think they would be good enough to do it. This is the best place to start because, in the real world, you can’t really go through trial and error. Here, you can go through trial and error because it’s not a job, so you’re supposed to go through trial and error. You’re supposed to learn. So just get started as soon as you can. But, be constantly working on something so that you can continue to get your clips because the only way that you get better at writing is by writing more.