By Stephen Caruso
Before he could write a single story for the University of Central Florida’s student newspaper, Kyle Swenson had to do some investigating.
The adversarial Knight News — in the midst of its fourth lawsuit against UCF for student government documents — keeps its meetings covert. But Swenson, a 21 year-old rising senior and finance major, talked to a friend of a friend who worked for the News before.
“I thought I wanted to be on Student Government Association, but I saw what our independent student newsroom was doing and I thought that it looked more fun,” Swenson said.
The friend’s tip brought Swenson to the News’ secluded meeting on the third floor of the student union. The choice of a notebook over a ballot box, started him on his path to become the editor-in-chief of the Knight News — as well a Dow Jones business reporting intern at the Orlando Business Journal.
Born in Chicago, Swenson and his family moved south to Florida when he was six. He was first exposed to journalism as a child via the soft glow of a television screen, where anchors dispensed the latest news on elections or natural disaster.
“I think working at one of the major networks would be very exciting and different everyday,” Swenson said.
That interest led him to his high school newspaper in Coral Springs, Florida. Then, when Swenson moved on to UCF in Orlando — where he still lives today — he decided to track down the elusive Knight News for a job reporting akin to his childhood idols.
Sean Lavin, a 32 year-old media law student and adviser to the Knight News, recalls the spring evening when Swenson first showed his face at a meeting. Lavin’s original response was suspicion — asking himself if perhaps Swenson was “some student government spy.”
But Lavin quickly realized that the burgeoning reporter’s enthusiasm — Swenson told the room he “wants to be on camera and [he] wants to be on camera soon” — wasn’t a front to gain illicit access. Swenson was just passionate.
“[He’s] not the normal reserved journalism student,” Lavin said.
Within a few days of that meeting, Swenson was in the field, reporting on camera for Knight News about a 24-hour charity dance marathon.
Later, Swenson developed “good sources” in student government to score tips about the conduct of elected officials through his natural friendliness — in between a trip to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and a sleepless night covering the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Lavin described Swenson as owning a “natural nose for news.” Rick Brunson, a 56 year-old former print journalist and UCF journalism professor, helped sharpen that knack.
Brunson met Swenson in the fall 2016, when Swenson took two of his journalism courses — on his way to a journalism minor.
“Right on the first day of class, [Swenson] was very forceful and assertive and knew what he wanted to do,” Brunson said.
It was Brunson’s suggestion that made Swenson apply to Dow Jones News Fund, even though he learned a weekend before the test.
A few months after taking the test and sending in his application right on deadline, Swenson received an offer to become a business reporting intern. Brunson was elated.
“Frankly, [business reporting is] where a lot of jobs are and a lot of journalism majors flee them,” Brunson said.
With the Dow Jones internship, Swenson will be set up for his goal of a career at Fox Business Network. The trip to New York for the ACBJ/DJNF residency will be his first time in New York since seeing “Book of Mormon” on Broadway in middle school, while he’s “excited” for his internship at the Orlando Business Journal.
Swenson be able to stay in his apartment in the metro area, with his favorite hang out spot, a bar with wine on tap, close by.
On the side, he’ll still be able to flip office furniture with his girlfriend — which he says has a surprising profit margin.
Looking back at his winding path into reporting, Swenson comes away with one observation.
“I’ve had a tendency to go against the grain,” he said.