Kyla Gardner: Whirlwind Journalisté

Next up in the Q&A series is friend and former co-worker, Kyla Gardner, a reporter for DNAInfo Chicago. I met Kyla while we both attended Northern Illinois University and worked for the Northern Star newspaper. She came in like a ball of energy, and attacked some pretty meaty stories. Since then we’ve kept in contact, and I’ve been able to witness her grow and grew as a journalist. She’s a bubbly, yet tenacious small package that’s pretty interesting.

My questions and or comments will be in bold while Kyla’s are in plain text.

What possessed you to ignore all good sense and go into the journalism field?

It was when I was transferring to Northern, and it was a really specific moment. I was planning on “creating my own major” or whatever in economics and international studies and Spanish, but I was staying with a friend in L.A. and we went to this independent book store and I picked up this book “The New New Journalism” and it was just interviews with a few authors I knew and a bunch I didn’t and I was reading it, and I was like, wait, this is what I want to do! This is what they do!

And when she was at work one day I used her computer to maniacally change my whole course schedule a few weeks before the semester started.

So I guess practicality really didn’t have anything to do with it.

It was like a five-minute decision, but a great one.

I reread the question because I was afraid I really didn’t answer it, but you used “possessed” and I think that is the perfect word.

Kyla feeling dreadful for one reason or another.

Kyla feeling dreadful for one reason or another.

Was your family, like many I’ve heard about, disconcerted about you choosing to study this and then continue it as a career?

It never really came up in discussion until I was a few weeks from graduation, when I was kind of deciding between pursuing an unpaid internship in Chicago, where I really wanted to be, and the possibility of a full-time/benefits/responsible-adult design position in the suburbs. And I kind of floated the idea with my parents of not moving forward with the full-time position, and my dad was like, “Well that’s not what you want to do anyway, right?”

And that was really shocking to me! I don’t know why, they’ve always been really supportive with me and my siblings (my brother studied animation, my sister is studying zoology, so we definitely aren’t going into business school or anything). But it gets stuck in your head hearing so often, especially in school, this is a dying field, you’ll never make any money. I mean, all our journalism professors became professors, right?!

Professor Gardner!

From your time as a journalisté, yes, journalisté, what can you tell people about some of their misconceptions about the profession?

Journaliste! I love that. If only I could make an accented e without copy and paste!

Okay I’m done with my one beer so watch out!


I really feel like I don’t have a lot of authority to talk! But I guess with my meager years of experience, one thing is that I am just so, so grateful when people open up and talk to me and share stories.

I encountered it at NIU, and now a few times since, that people kind of hedge their bets with you, and are like, “you know, I’ve spoken with journalists before, and I wasn’t quoted right” or they didn’t really “get” it, or any number of things that made them kind of distrustful.

So, hmmm, let me put a nice bow of a point on this, though I’m not sure I have one.

I guess this might not be answering your question, but  sometimes it seems like people can be blanket-distrustful of “the media” and reporters so I’m just really appreciative of all the people who do talk and open up.

Oh! One of my roommate’s coworkers (neither are journalists) she told me one time said, “Well, don’t you kind of have to be promiscuous to be a journalist?”

Is that a stereotype?!?! hahaha

Tsk tsk. This might connect to a later question, FYI.

What were some of your misconceptions going into journalism?

I am blanking! Any prompts to help me along?

Possibly thinking of it in this very romantic way as portrayed in movies, or there’s always an exciting story breaking.

Oh! I know.

I guess it’s easy to assume there’s that 24-hour news cycle everyone’s always talking about, but then you really kind of learn, like, okay, on Christmas people aren’t reading online news; they’re hanging out with their family. So yeah, there are more ebbs and flows when there’s not a huge story breaking, which I hadn’t realized in school.

Which story, or series of stories, that you’ve covered has been the most memorable or left the biggest impact on you, good or bad?

Oh, ugh, I know these answers immediately.

It’s definitely Hadiya Pendleton’s murder, and Toni Keller’s.

I helped with coverage of both of those, and it’s just such a terrible thing to talk about and think about and write about. I can’t imagine the impressions left on the reporters I work with who do most of their work on covering the city’s murders, talking to families, friends, every day.

Obviously, still a job though. I don’t want to make it sound like reporters bear the burden of that pain, because it’s definitely the families and friends.

But in terms of stories, those are the first ones I think of when you ask that question.

That’s one of the things that steered me away from pursuing a full-time reporter position. Working on Toni Keller’s story and stories with violence, and the prospect of being on that type of beat for a long time.

The Toni Keller case was a lot of my first stories, just a few months after that L.A. snap decision. So it was a pretty big introductory class.

Which types of stories do you absolutely hate to cover?

Hahaha, oh god, is this going on the INTERNET for my BOSSES to see?!

YES, I’ll @ them!

Hmmm, well I think I definitely get more nervous about event coverage than anything else. Like, it’s an EVENT! It happens ONCE! So you better do it right. As opposed to researching a longer piece that takes setting up interviews and combing through stuff, you have a lot of time to think.

Haha, @ Jen Sabella! Maybe she will accept your marriage proposal this time.

(I once made the offer of marriage to Jen Sabella or, instead of that, her showing me how to become a verified tweeter. She did not respond . . . rightfully so.)

Again, good or bad, what are some of the most interesting reactions you’ve gotten when trying to engage a potential source?

One of my favorite stories to work on at the Northern Star was about the reopening of Gilbert Hall, and I found all these Star articles about it closing in, I think, ’95.

So I went through the alumni database to find some of the students quoted back then, and I have, again, this specific memory of sitting in my dorm room, and calling at maybe 6 or 8 p.m. or something, and he picked up! And it’s so exciting when someone picks up when you’re expecting a message. So then, it’s like, um, I wanted to talk to you about when you were upset 17 years ago about your dorm closing? And he told me he was unloading groceries from his car into his home, I think, in Naperville, you know, with a wife and family now and everything, but we talked and it seemed like he enjoying reminiscing about that, you know. It was just one of those weird ways you meet people, which is just the greatest thing in journalism. To get to talk to all these people you’d never cross paths with otherwise

I actually just did that again a week ago, calling someone to say, “I saw your name in this Tribune article from 10 years ago…”

That’s kind of weird, I guess. hahaha

Going with that, could you talk about being a “lurkin ass” reporter?

Oh god hahahahaha.

I feel so ashamed every time I have no other choice trying to track someone down but to do the terrible “Hi @whoever, I’m a reporter can you DM me?”

Oh god, it’s the worst.

Then your lurkin’ is out there for everyone to see.

But I guess I’ve been surprised by that, too — how much, sometimes you can do to find a source through social media. It sounds so new-media or whatever but it’s amazing sometimes what you can find.

Oh! The story about a guy riding on the top of the Red Line.

I found someone via Twitter who said he had seen it, so then I think I did the shameful DM thing or maybe found him on Facebook. By the way, I don’t know if I should say this in public, but I have been kicked off of Facebook for friending people I don’t know and then had to agree to this special terms of service not to do it anymore. Can’t there be a clause for journalists now that you took away our inbox messaging?!? Mr. Zuckerberg?!?

But ANYWAY . . .

I talked to the guy over the phone who had seen it, and then we ran into each other in person one time! So again, just that magical thing of connecting with so many different people. It’s great.

And I have been called a “lurkin’ ass” by teens on Twitter.

She put her number up there! Twitter’s like the White Pages these days, c’mon.

I guess that DOES make me sound creepy haha.

Do you ever think about just packing it in, and taking your talents to another field? If so, what stops you?

When I was doing my internships right after graduation I was moonlighting as a professional dog cuddler to pay rent. I seriously miss it all the time. I worked at a dog hotel, a boarding facility, but I spent all day taking care of and playing with dogs. I really have a soft spot for animals, one of my favorite beats is Urban Animals, so, I guess that’s in the back of my mind, but I don’t think I could pack it in, not yet. Right now, I feel like not ever, but maybe ask me again when I’m not fresh out of school!

Kyla and canine, a true friendship.

Kyla and canine, a true friendship.

Unless you’re worried about burning bridges, who or what are some individuals or organizations that wave the journalistic flag that you just can’t stand?

Okay this is BAITING Demarcus!

Okay this is the question I was worried about! haha.

Well, anyone who knows me knows about the “B-word”, and things are shifting so much in journalism right now, it seems like they aren’t going to stop shifting, so who knows what certain sites will look like in five years.

But for right now, I really can’t stand the kind of viral-at-any-costs thing. There was an article I read today in Esquire about breaking the internet which I think argued and summed up the feelings in a way I hadn’t seen before. It was perfect.

But I guess I can’t say what my friends, internet-only or IRL, can and cannot like and enjoy. I just know that, personally, what I really enjoy is when I can do the shoe-leather reporting, or the interviews or the research that brings some new information to people. So if people love reading and sharing and writing think pieces and viral Twitter sagas or YouTube videos or snarky takes on the news, that’s fine that it exists. I just know that for me, that’s not what I enjoy making or consuming, so hopefully there continues to be a market for the other stuff, the “traditional” stuff, if you will. I read the NYT Dasani piece last night, and man, there’s just no 7-minute Upworthy video that can replicate that, in my opinion. I just don’t want the viral stuff to become a substitution for everything else.

I’m trying to take a Zen-er approach for the new year, can you tell? haha

Yes, I can!

Why in the hell did it take you, a young and upcoming reporter, so long to get on Twitter and then actually utilize it?

Oh god, Twitter! A curse and a blessing!

I had a bunch of fake accounts at NIU, so I felt confident putting it on resume, because I knew how to use it. I just didn’t have an actual account. And don’t think I don’t pay for it every day, because I’m stuck with @gardnerkyla and @kylagardner has ZERO tweets, ZERO followers, and ONE following: The Rock.

A handle squatter!

And it legitimately could be me, which is the worst part! Some old email account or something.

To answer your question, I realized to cover breaking news you have to use Twitter.

I mean, @CFDMedia uses Twitter! So I had so many Tweetdeck columns, and it helps so much. But now that I don’t report as much breaking news, I’m kind of getting weaned off of Twitter. It’s so addicting though. I’ve stayed up too many nights just because I was following breaking news on Twitter, and not for work or anything, just in my free time.

But trying to find that balance, between not looking at it ever and checking it every 5 minutes, it is tough to use it reasonably with the way it works.

Reporting is already tough, but have you ever felt like a source has ever given you a harder time, or even been patronizing, because you’re a young woman or just because you’re young?

Sometimes I get asked at placed if I want the 12-and-under discount, so that’s not helping the young thing at all either. But honestly, I don’t think I have. The times I’ve been patronized, I don’t think it’s because I’m a woman or I’m young.

Would you say me getting you into Chance The Rapper is the single most important thing I’ve contributed to you as a friend?

OH MY GOD, yes!

And while everyone’s in the spirit of making end-of-year lists, somehow ending up at Chance’s party after his show has to be one of my favorite memories of 2013.

Same here, and thanks to John Taylor for that!

Kyla & @JohnTaylorTweets with Chance The Rapper (I didn't move fast enough smh)

Kyla & @JohnTaylorTweet with Chance The Rapper (I didn’t move fast enough smh)

We were FB chatting, and I listened to the first song of “Acid Rap” and was like, “Demarcus, is this for real?” with his voice. And now I can’t get enough of “10Day”, either.

Truly, a wonderful gift.

You owe it to me to name your 1st child after me now.

That is so far off that I am going to go ahead and make you that deal, and you can be all like “GARDNER!” when I don’t.

I’ll take you to court!

Only if it’s People’s Court.

Me creeping on Kyla creeping on NoName Gypsy & Chance The Rapper.

Me creeping on Kyla creeping on NoName Gypsy & Chance The Rapper.

What would you tell any and all journalists out there they should work on?

Well, I can’t speak to much in my, what, 3, 4 years of doing this, but in a preachy, probably annoying way, I personally want to devote more time to some quality reading, so that’s my recommendation. I get so easily distracted by checking Twitter and Facebook and email and reading a thousand how-to-write-more-and-better listicles and articles, and what those authors quoted and interviewed in those writing articles say anyway is to read more. And I feel like I’m reading when I’m doing this internet thing, but it’s unfocused, low-quality reading. What I really need to do is sit down with a book or some long-form journalism and do that for a few hours without bouncing around.

Join #ArticleSquad.

Yes! I am always looking for recommendations, which ironically, I find by going on the internet. Also, thank you for inviting me, because you have been a RUTHLESS gatekeeper since Mr. Liparota and I have tried to join!

#ArticleSquad is a temple.

Okay, well I’m waving it in Mr. Liparota’s face that I’ve been formally invited.

What’s the worst question I asked during the Q&A, and what would you have asked in its place?

You know what, I can’t really say there were any that were the worst! The ones that tripped me up were ones that I didn’t feel I had good answers to, but I feel like that’s MY fault! they were all good questions. But maybe I can think of an additional one.

What would I ask myself, if I were me? #millennial

Maybe something about what I’m reading, or who my favorite writers or journalists are?

Ew, the term millennial. This Q&A is formally over!

BONUS: Who are some of your favorite writers/journalists?

I am weirdly obsessed with the very specific niche of authenticating fine art, and David Grann wrote an article about that, and I love that I remember reading that the same summer I decided to go into journalism, so I think that definitely played a part in that, too. But I think “Fatal Distraction” is my favorite feature ever, ever ever. It is so terribly sad, but you need to read it over and over. And I love a bunch of other things Gene Weingarten has written. Recently about Jeffrey MacDonald, the feature on the Great Zucchini, really anything in the “Fiddler on the Subway” collection. And the Zanesville pieces in both GQ and Esquire, back to those urban animals. I’ve been recently obsessed with Chris Jones’ Teller profile. I could go on about this for days, I think I need to join #ArticleSquad if you are interested in features that were written years ago haha.

#ArticleSquad is open minded.

Kyla Gardner, hot shot, hot-dogging journalist.

Kyla Gardner, hot shot, hot-dogging journalist.

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