Writing News
Bennet Pomerantz

Brian Stelter realized he had come of age in January at an American Society of Newspaper Editors luncheon. NBC anchor Brian Williams, the speaker, pointed out Stelter to the guests. Williams explained that in this new-media age, Stelter's online TVNewser blog, at Mediabistro.com, was a must-read for anyone in network and cable news.

"I thought it was so strange that a 20-year-old blogger could be pointed out by the anchor of NBC Nightly News for something that he does in his dorm room," says Stelter, a senior journalism student at Towson University in Maryland. He also updates his blog during classes, thanks to the school's wireless Internet, and on vacation from the beach last week in Ocean City, Maryland.

Williams, who writes a daily blog at NBC, makes no apologies for praising Stelter, who grew up watching Williams on MSNBC and has dreams of a career in TV news.

TVNewser "is the closest thing to the bible of what's going on in our industry," says Williams, who checks it daily. "But it's a little disconcerting knowing that the main pulse of your industry is being taken by someone who cannot legally take a drink."

Reading TVNewser, says CNN's Miles O'Brien, "makes me feel like I'm in the middle of a cocktail party of all people who know what's going on in my business. We're all kind of chewing the fat, saying, 'Oh, no, I think this is true' and someone else saying, 'No, no, this is true.' "

In the insular world of TV news, battles are waged every day to leak, spin and anonymously tip reporters about how well or poorly a network or one of its executives, anchors, correspondents, producers or programs is doing.

One of the chief disseminators of this information is TVNewser, the Energizer Bunny of media blogs, which never seems to sleep and where everything in TV news - ratings races, personnel moves, program comings and goings - is of interest. In June, it got 260,000 unique visitors, says Stelter, who says he has "sped up the news cycle about news in TV news."

"I don't know anybody who doesn't find their own business fascinating," CNN's Jeff Greenfield says. "What's striking about this (TVNewser) is he seems to be pretty good at separating fact from rumors. I don't care if he's 20. His standards are the right ones."

Last week, Stelter broke the news that CNN national security correspondent David Ensor, a fixture in network and cable news for three decades, was leaving. He posted Ensor's e-mail to colleagues, in which Ensor said that "as long as CNN always remembers its middle name, it will not go far wrong."

That's the kind of news that "fills a void, the inside stuff that isn't going to get in a newspaper, or just a line in a trade magazine, but you're going to hear at the water cooler," Stelter says.

Yet another example of how the Internet can connect one person's passion with an online audience, Stelter began writing TVNewser anonymously 2 years ago - at first on his own, before getting hired by Mediabistro.

He figured that if anyone in the industry knew his identity, it might ruin his chances of someday getting a job in journalism. But as time went on, he realized that "to really blog well, you have to talk on the phone, meet in person and all that kind of stuff," so he went public.

Stelter says his mother finally took him seriously when he came home with Diane Sawyer's autograph after meeting the ABC Good Morning America anchor in New York.

Stelter has a contract with Mediabistro.com that runs through next May. He says it pays him enough to cover his annual school expenses (which Towson lists as $18,514) and then some.

It has been a steep learning curve, Stelter says, separating fact from spin and the outright lies that come in the form of anonymous e-mail tips he accepts and posts. Writing TVNewser "has been TV 101 and PR 101," he says.

MSNBC chief Dan Abrams says Stelter "is used as much as most reporters. They're given tips and they have to decide, 'Why am I getting this information, is it accurate and what's the context?' I think he has been very good at that."

Last week, after the unexpected death of former Enron chief Ken Lay, someone e-mailed Stelter to say - erroneously and anonymously - that CNBC planned to run a prime-time special on Lay. Stelter posted it but quickly corrected the report after CNBC contacted him. He says his willingness to do so has increased his blog's credibility.

"People write me and say, 'Thank you for correcting yourself.' I guess that's in short supply these days. Not enough people admit when they mess up. To me, credibility is all I have."

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About the Writer:

Bennet Pomerantz is a media review columnist in 175 newspapers with his weekly column AUDIOWORLD. His fiction and reviews have appeared in the pages of Affaire De Coeur, Gateways, Mystery Scene, Power Star, The Hot Corner, Washington Entertainment Magazine, and many others. He is also known for his review appearances on the MCN Forum. View his web site at Audioworld.