In the beginning, CableNewser was a mystery. Cable industry players and TV news junkies logged on to the Web site cablenewser.com for insight and dish, never knowing who exactly was behind it all—or with any idea that they were often being scooped by an 18-year-old college student. That is until the New York Times blew his cover in May. Brian Stelter, a journalism student at Maryland’s Towson University, talked with AJR’s Melissa Cirillo about his role as a young journalism watchdog.
By Melissa Cirillo
Q: How did you become confident enough in your knowledge and understanding of the cable news industry to launch "CableNewser"?
Melissa Cirillo is a former AJR editorial assistant.
A: Well, actually, I got sick of yelling at the TV and having no one to complain to.... I've been watching [cable news] since 1996...and I started reading a lot about the cable business. Originally I was hoping to get a lot of reader response...but now I feel confident that I can have a knowledgeable analysis myself.
Q: Do you worry that disclosing your identity may have compromised your access to sources or others' willingness to take you seriously?
A: I figured I'd never get a job if people knew who I was, but now I have people who say, "Call me when you get out of school." I think people trust me more now because they see that I'm just someone looking in from the outside.... Before they didn't know who I was working for. I've been surprised by the response.
Q: Have you gained any celebrity status among your journalism professors or others?
A: [Recently] I visited both Fox and CNN...and folks recognized me and said they love the site. Some of my professors e-mailed me after the [New York Times] story came out and said they were surprised that I wore this other hat.
Q: How do you manage to take in so much television and still lead a normal life?
A: I'm not really sure actually. I turn it on when I get up and before I go to bed...and e-mails come in all day from readers. When there's breaking news, I get an alert on my cell phone.... I look at transcripts and I try to see what guests are scheduled for that night. I also consider the site an aggregator — it's not just about watching the news, but about watching everyone else [who's involved].
Q: Any plans to take over one of the networks?
A: I have a mentor who used to work for CNN and MSNBC who says, "Brian, you're going to hire me one day when you're the president of one of these news organizations," and the more she says it, the more I start to believe it. I hope people would watch, but they might not like my vision of the way it should be.
Q: If the takeover doesn't occur, do you see consulting or teaching in your future?
A: I tell people that my dream job hasn't been invented yet. I want to be in print, on television, radio, online.... I want to be a journalist on multiple platforms. I'm also interested in journalism education, because I was a creation of that.
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