By Gwenne Adkins, Mayborn Scholar
Sitting under a wall of diplomas, including a University of North Texas Masters of Journalism plaque, Kevin Ryan is intimately aware of the unglamorous yet fiercely invigorating career of a writer. He admits that he's grown fond of the demands of the conservative media beat, savored the quiet moments to read literature by French philosophers and theorists, and cherished most the opportunities to work on his own stories. "I couldn't have gotten to where I am without the Mayborn," Ryan said, swinging his one-year-old daughter in his arms.
For Ryan, it happened one Saturday morning. Following a friend's recommendation, Ryan visited Denton, Texas, and wandered onto the UNT campus where he met former Dean Dorothy Bland who convinced him to join the Mayborn School of Journalism. He was quickly immersed in the theoretical and practical demands of the program. "The great thing about the program is that you can dive in as deep as you want," Ryan said. "And I dove in all the way."
The practical application of the program taught him the basics of reporting from conducting and transcribing an interview to writing a press release and making a media request.
Ryan also learned research methods and a plethora of media theories through the theoretical aspects of the program. He found theory "extremely helpful" for understanding the intricate relationship between the public and the media. "I came to fall in love with and use it extensively in my work as a journalist," Ryan said.
At Mayborn, he was also challenged to complete a master's thesis, which was "a good physical measurement," and encouraged to submit his book proposal, Person Pitch, which won the 2019 Literary Excellence Award.
Ryan made personal and professional friendships during his time at Mayborn and "I left grad school with a Rolodex of people I could reach out to" he said. But he also found that the job market was savage, leading him to take a position as an adjunct professor at Tarrant County College, while simultaneously interviewing for reporting positions.
"Then I got a job in conservative media," Ryan said. "And I tried everything I could do not to get hired." Regardless of the demands that Ryan requested, Blaze Media offered him the reporting job. "I was like dammit," Ryan added.
But Blaze Media surprised Ryan with its size and scope as well as the culture. "Everybody was very open-minded and it surprised me," says Ryan. While he disagreed with some of the content, he did not find it to be the "wellspring of bigotry" that he had assumed.
Instead, disagreeing was encouraged. Eventually, ethical issues arose that Ryan could not endorse, and after a year, Ryan left Blaze Media for Mercury Radio Arts, another conservative media producer that rewarded Ryan, eventually promoting him, for championing libertarian media and bringing controversial opinions to the network.
The most compelling part of the job was the flexibility. "On their dime, I've read Barth and Heidegger and that's allowed me to work on my book," Ryan said. Mercury also provided him the opportunity to travel and cover stories of personal interest, including working on the 2020 election cycle. When friends wanted to go to a Trump rally, "I would text Trump's press people and they would send passes," he says. "A Trump rally as a journalist is something that has to be experienced more so than described."
In March of 2020, Ryan obtained a press pass and tickets to start going to the White House, just as the COVID-19 outbreak changed that trajectory. Unable to travel, he seamlessly shifted his energy to writing a book. "I like this better," Ryan adds. "Writing is what I'm made to do so I feel very fortunate that I can do that."