Rising Star Q&A: Kelley Carter

Kelley Carter is a 2007 journalism alumna from MSU ComArtSci. In 2010, Carter received the ComArtSci Alumni Board’s Rising Star Award. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter for ESPN’s The Undefeated and also works with ABC as an entertainment correspondent. Carter currently lives in Los Angeles. 

What was your favorite class at ComArtSci? 

I really loved Journalism 200. It's the first reporting course I had, and I took it with the dearly departed Dr. Stan Soffin. I feel like I learned a lot of fundamentals about reporting from that class. I also took Journalism 430 News in the Law with Sue Carter. I really liked that course because I found that there were things I was able to put into my toolbox as a journalist with regards to the law that were actually applicable to real-life situations. 

What was your favorite study spot on campus?

Earmuffs if my parents are listening, but I hated studying. It felt like I was spending 24 hours a day in the newsroom at the Student Services Building, which is where The State News was housed when I was there. So, that's where I would say I "studied." Whether I was picking up a book, writing a paper, doing homework or even eating and sleeping, the newsroom was where everything was happening for me. 

What was your favorite thing to do around East Lansing? 

Aside from going to basketball and football games which I absolutely loved despite the rebuilding years from MSU athletics in the late 90s, I loved going to the Peanut Barrel. That was such a big tradition for The State News. We used to have our edit board meetings there every Sunday. Sometimes too, when we finished an issue for print on Thursdays, we would all migrate over to the Peanut Barrel. Whenever I come back to East Lansing, I always find my way to the Peanut Barrel just because it feels like that gathering spot for when I was in college.  

What’s your favorite MSU Memory? 

One of my favorite MSU memories was being at the Board of Trustees meeting when it was announced that domestic partner benefits would be extended to everyone. That was an important memory for me because I was an intern at The State News, so I was really learning how to be a reporter, and the impact journalists could have. So, seeing that my college newspaper was leading the charge on that story and then seeing its impact not only on the university, but also other public institutions was major for me. I loved knowing that I had a really tiny contribution in telling that story to affect change. It was very foundational for me as a journalist moving from that point. 

So, you earned your degree in journalism at ComArtSci, can you speak about how things have evolved in your industry since you graduated and where you foresee things going from here? 

Journalism has changed so much! I left Michigan State in 1998, and I set out to be a newspaper journalist. And so, back when I was in school, there was an absolute separation of church and state when it came to wanting to be a broadcast journalist or a newspaper journalist. We viewed ourselves as "serious" journalists that told hard-hitting stories as newspaper journalists. I would have never imagined that I would end up spending the bulk of my career on television. One thing that happened is that I became a specialty journalist with entertainment. When you become a specialty journalist and really develop an expertise in your field, you will be called on to be an expert and appear on radio and television. I think it's helpful nowadays to be comfortable in different mediums. That wasn't something I learned in school, but something I know now. I definitely would've taken more broadcast journalism classes at state in hindsight. Another thing I will say is that you should allow yourself time and space for evolution and to roll with the changes. 

What was your biggest lesson learned during your time at ComArtSci? And what was your biggest lesson after ComArtSci?

The biggest thing I learned at ComArtSci was the importance of relationships and relationship development. That's actually what journalism is all about when you think about it—source development and nourishing a relationship, so you build a foundation of trust. I also started developing my first "board of directors" when I was at ComArtSci. Now, this is just in my head, I haven't anointed anyone or given anyone a coffee mug, but I believe everyone should have this idea of a "board of directors" in their careers. It's essentially a brain trust of people you can talk about your career and figure out your moves. Another thing, too, is that you may need to add more people to the board as you progress through your career and veer into new areas and repertoires. Maybe you need a metro editor or an audio producer or someone who is a sports anchor and so forth. But anyway, I first started doing this during my time at ComArtSci.

After college, the biggest lesson I learned was that part of succeeding in journalism was being open to change. For me, that meant picking up and zig-zagging across the country when I needed to. Some friends teased me that I didn't know my address for Christmas cards because I was moving so much. I moved a lot because I was moving for opportunities. And, of course, this isn't for everyone, and I understand that. But I know of many journalists who lived in many places to pursue things they wanted to accomplish in their careers. I also think being open to change can mean many different things and not just be about moving.

Fast forward to the end of your career. It's your retirement party, and everyone is there celebrating your achievements. What do you hope people say about you? 

I want people to say I was a trusted journalist and trusted source. When something major happens in the entertainment landscape, there are people who will tag me on social media and say, "I will not believe this until Kelley Carter says it's so," and that means so much to me. It also communicated responsibility to me, and that keeps me accountable. I think in this world of 24-hour news, and everyone wants to jump out there and be first, I just want to be right. I think because I know that people look to me for that, it made me slow down and understand my space in the world and who I should be as a journalist. So those are the things that I hope people say about me as they celebrate my career. That I was consistent and the type of journalist who always provided a comfortable couch for people.

To those students who are confused, overwhelmed, not sure what they want to do, unsure about what a degree from ComArtSci can do for them, what would your message be to them?

Be patient. I say this to you as someone who is absolutely not patient, but having any tiny sense semblance of patience has always paid off for me. I'm now experiencing in my career, 20- something-odd years after my time at MSU, things that I have always been towards. The payoff is just now starting to happen for me. I think the worst thing you can do is look to your left or look to your right and see what other people are doing and base your career self-esteem off of how fast their careers might be moving. It’s going to be hard to do, but you can’t do that to yourself. Patience and hard work pay off. When I was right out of MSU, some of the best advice I got was, "Always operate like you have one foot out the door." Hustle like you're looking for your next job because you're going to do some of your best work when you do that.
By Joe Strother