Returning to the Nest: Daily News alumni reflect on their time with the paper and what led them back to Ball State

Ball State Creative Strategist Bobby Ellis uses his camera while he worked at the Daily News in 2010. Bobby Ellis, Photo Provided
Ball State Creative Strategist Bobby Ellis uses his camera while he worked at the Daily News in 2010. Bobby Ellis, Photo Provided

The newsroom is buzzing — designers are laying out pages, photographers are choosing their best photos and reporters are getting their stories completed before their deadline.

It’s a college newsroom, but there is a professional aura — one that could be intimidating for younger students, but can also be encouraging and make them hopeful for their future, nonetheless.

Gail Werner walked into The Ball State Daily News newsroom her freshman year after being an editor for her high school yearbook and working for the newspaper. For her, it was always between Ball State and Indiana University for school, but she chose Ball State after falling in love with the campus environment.

“I remember riding my bike from the north side of campus to come to my first DN meeting, and I was really drawn to the features staff … I wrote some features and then gradually transitioned into news,” said Werner, Ball State executive writer for the president and 2004 Ball State graduate. “I just knew that if I wanted to be a journalist, I needed to get the experience of working for the campus publications.”

During Werner’s first year with The Daily News, she worked at the copy desk as well, where she said all the “brand new” students with the paper initially worked. In her first year, she also met her husband, Nick, who now works for the Ball State Foundation as a campaign communications strategist.

“That first year is kind of tinted with early days of remembering seeing him in the newsroom and being excited about that,” Werner said.

In her second year with The Daily News, Werner was part of the staff who reported on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and said she had one of the bylines on the front page. For Werner, spending that entire day in the newsroom reporting was an important memory and “really transformative” for the whole group as students.

In her time with The Daily News, Werner said the students working for the paper became a close-knit group who all cared about the product they were putting out. But even more than that, they cared about each other.

During her senior year at Ball State, Werner worked for the Muncie Star Press as a higher education reporter until spring 2008, when she was hired to work in the Ball State marketing and communications department. In 2017, Werner was hired for her role as executive writer for the president of the university.

“I feel very fortunate in a way that I have kind of fallen into every position I’ve had, and there seems to be something that keeps me here at the university,” she said. “And I think the reason I’m OK with that is because I really love seeing how much this university has changed and grown.”

Werner said she is “immensely proud” of The Daily News and how it has been around for 100 years, especially with how the print industry has changed. 

“I think it just speaks to the tradition of this university and the dedication we’ve always had to the purpose of the profession of journalism,” Werner said. “I’m really proud of the tradition of The Daily News, and I’m proud of the way that the student publication has covered this university for a century.”

Executive Writer Gail Werner poses for a photo in her office March 28 in the Administration Building. Werner met her husband, Nick, while she was working at the Daily News. Grace Duerksen, DN

Like Werner, Andrew Walker, Ball State senior communications strategist, also worked for The Daily News when he was in college and said he is proud of the way the paper has changed to fit the changing landscape of journalism.

Walker was born and raised in Muncie, and his dad worked for the Star Press. He grew up in newsrooms and said he always knew that was the career path he would take. After graduating from high school in 2007, Walker attended Franklin College to play baseball before transferring to Ball State his freshmann year.

“I knew — coming to Ball State — I felt like I could make a pretty quick impact coming on board The Daily News staff, even as a freshman,” Walker said. “I started off and just accepted whatever beats were handed to me and then worked my way up.”

For Walker, The Daily News best prepared him for a career in journalism because “that’s the real thing,” and he still encourages students in the journalism department to take advantage of the paper.

Walker had an internship with the Star Press that turned into a full-time job with the paper before working in the NFL for the currently named Washington Commanders as a writer and editor until 2016 when he returned to Indiana to work for the Indianapolis Colts. 

Returning to Ball State was a “bit of a culture shock” for Walker at first, but he said it’s been nothing but positive.

“It’s been awesome to be back here in Muncie and on campus and see how much the university has grown since I left just a few years ago,” he said.

Jennifer Palilonis, George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of multimedia journalism, is also a Daily News alumna who graduated from Ball State in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism news and graphics. Palilonis said she always knew she was going to be a journalist. She worked for the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Sun Times before returning to Ball State in 2001 to run the journalism graphics sequence.

Palilonis said she started out as a reporter for The Daily News “pretty quickly,” and was a chief reporter by the beginning of her sophomore year before working her way up to becoming a news editor.

“Like students back then, I pretty much lived in the newsroom,” Palilonis said. “I did quite a bit of time, working five days a week … I did a lot of editing and reporting, and that was just part of my college experience.”

At the beginning of her time with The Daily News, Palilonis covered crime in the Muncie community, but by her junior and senior years, she was focused more on design.

Palilonis said the majority of her career has now been at Ball State working as a professor, which is something she never planned on doing and she said she “fell in love with teaching in a really weird way.” When she was the art director for the Free Press, the journalism department chair at Wayne State University in Detroit approached her boss looking for someone to teach a design class, and he gave them Palilonis’ name and contact information.

“I signed up to teach that class and really fell in love with teaching,” she said. “I never really thought that I was going to teach, and I really didn’t have any intention of doing that.”

After working at Wayne State, Palilonis worked at a design academy in Chicago, and when Michael Price, former Ball State professor, left the university, Palilnois became the journalism graphics sequence coordinator.

“I fell in love with my job at Ball State largely because I really do love working with students, and I love providing students with those real world opportunities that we do so well at Ball State through immersive learning,” Palilonis said. “It’s pretty meaningful to me … Ball State and the journalism department is living, breathing and so much more than just a job.”

Palilonis also said she believes The Daily News has shaped her as a journalist and who she is as a professor, which makes the 100-year anniversary even more special for her.

Leo Caldwell, assistant lecturer of media design, also worked for The Daily News as a designer when he was in school. However, he said he feels he was such a small part of it because he wasn’t part of the staff for long before he got a job with the Star Press.

When he joined the staff, Caldwell said he was a little intimidated at first because everyone was already friends, but he said it was easy to make friends, which was important to him because he was a nontraditional student and older than some of his peers.

Now, Caldwell said it’s amazing to work at the school he graduated from.

“With my first go around at college, I did not do well and I dropped out,” Caldwell said, “so it’s really validating that I not only finished my bachelor’s, but finished my master’s and then went on to do pretty well and then come back and teach. It all came full circle.”

Caldwell also said he loves that he could be part of The Daily News for a small amount of time, especially now that it’s 100 years old.

Assistant Lecturer of Media Design Leo Caldwell poses for a photo in his office March 28 in the Arts and Journalism Building. Rylan Capper, DN

Bobby Ellis, Ball State creative strategist, said he became involved with The Daily News the summer before his freshman year in 2009, and he knew right away he wanted to be a photographer. By his senior year, he was The Daily News’ photo editor.

“The Daily News just seemed like something guided toward what I wanted to do,” Ellis said. “I could go out and cover different assignments every day.”

Ellis said his favorite memories at The Daily News all have to do with the people he met, as he still has friends from the paper who he talks to almost daily. He was also able to travel around the United States for projects he worked on with The Daily News, and he could meet new people and work on a variety of projects.

“The newspaper helped me learn more than I feel like I did in class,” he said. “I knew a lot more coming out of school about how the industry worked.”

Ellis said it’s been “really interesting” to come back and work at Ball State because he’s gotten to learn more about the university and the people who work for it. He also feels he can teach students more about photography.

Looking back at his time with The Daily News, Ellis said he is proud of his work and what he has done, but he also thinks that’s the culture the paper has built.

“I would put [The Daily News] up against any student-run newspaper in the country,” he said. “It may not win, but I honestly don’t think any other student newspaper has that much of acclaim over what [The Daily News does] … it’s on par with anything else.”

Brooke Kemp, graduate assistant in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication, was the editor-in-chief of The Daily News from 2019-20, and said it’s “really weird” to think that The Daily News has been around for 100 years and she was part of that history.

Kemp said the Unified Media Lab alone attracted her to Ball State, and to get involved her freshman year, she ate lunch in the lab every day until she felt more comfortable.

“It was a really cool experience because I had just gotten involved in journalism in general my senior year of high school,” she said. “It was really cool to explore that on a much deeper level but also to immediately be welcomed in a way that was like, ‘We trust you, but we’re also going to help you and not expect you to be this rockstar journalist right out the gate.’”

During her time with The Daily News, Kemp worked as the features editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief. Kemp also had an internship with the Anderson Herald Bulletin during summer 2019 and an internship with the Indianapolis Star in summer 2020, both of which she said she wouldn’t have gotten without The Daily News.

“I know it’s cheesy, but it really has gotten me to where I am today,” she said. 

Kemp said she was “immediately swept up” by The Daily News because of the amount of writing she could do and the types of stories she could tell, and it felt like the place where she could figure out what was best for her.

While working for The Daily News, Kemp said her favorite project to work on was “Living Form,” an enterprise story and documentary she put together with the help of The Daily News’ visual teams. 

“Not only was it just an honor to learn that stuff with them, but to just be immersed in the environment and just all of us playing off each other’s strengths was so cool,” Kemp said. “Seeing that whole documentary process come together is just amazing, and it won several awards.”

While Kemp was on staff, The Daily News transitioned from printing three days a week to printing once a week, and it also transitioned from a typical broadsheet to tabloid format. She said it was “so cool” to be part of the rebranding and watch a big part of Daily News history take place.

Kemp was also part of the group that started the Partnership Project, an annual paper highlighting stories about Muncie Community Schools.

“I mean, how often do reporters have something that has never happened before right there in their backyard for them to report on?” Kemp said. “That was amazing to be able to start a big recurring project like that. It’s not often that the gravity of how much you’re contributing to really hits you.”

Overall, Kemp said it’s humbling to be part of an organization that has been around for 100 years and to know she has been part of a paper that has had to change while adapting with the times and the changing world of journalism.

“There’s not enough words to say how I feel,” she said. “But being part of that history is so cool, and it’s been really weird because it’s only been two years … which is a lifetime and a very short time. The fact that we are at 100 years is just baffling.”

Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at or on Twitter @mayawilkinss.


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