All-News Format

The New York Times yesterday featured on its front page the story of a college student by the name of Brian Stelter, who has risen to outstanding success with a blog about the TV news industry.

Stelter, 21, is a senior at Towson University in Maryland, where he majors in mass communication, and is the editor of the school paper. His blog, TVNewser, the operation of which he fits in around his class schedule, has apparently become an indispensible industry resource. He enjoys privileged access, it seems — including cell phone numbers and private email addresses — to just about every person of influence in the field, and has become everyone’s primary source for news about the news.

Stelter has, it seems, done everything right, and is a fascinating case study in how to succeed at blogging. From the article in the Times:

It is read religiously by network presidents, media executives, producers and publicists, not for any stinging commentary from Mr. Stelter, whose style is usually described as earnest, but because it provides a quick snapshot of the industry on any given day. Habitués include Mr. Williams and Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN’s domestic operations, who long ago offered up his cellphone number to Mr. Stelter.

“The whole industry pays attention to his blog,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, a senior vice president of ABC News. “It would not surprise me if I refreshed my browser 30 to 40 times a day.”

… “The biggest TV executives, the men and women who run the top networks, look at this kid’s Web site all the time,” said Joe Scarborough, the host of the talk show “Scarborough Country” on MSNBC. “And the genius of it is that everybody thinks they own him. Everybody says: ‘Oh, I’ve got a great relationship with Brian. Let me leak it to him.’ ”

Mr. Stelter has only been operating his blog since early 2004, but has devoted himself to it assiduously, and the site has rapidly gained popularity. He has already made lucrative arrangements for its continued existence, and his future in the industry seems assured.

This is, of course, a blogger’s dream come true. What made it possible?

First and foremost, Mr. Stelter is obviously a very talented and highly motivated young man, and has been fascinated by journalism — particularly TV journalism — all his life. He is quite plainly the sort who works hard at things, and success in any field requires sustained and enthusiastic effort. This already puts him out in front of the great majority of bloggers, who tend to poke at their websites in a desultory way every few days or weeks.

His website is also — and I think this is the key point — sharply focused. There are other bloggers who spend as much time at it as does Mr. Stelter, but few stay so keenly on topic. You won’t find, at TVNewser, broad but shallow coverage of subjects ranging, say, from politics, philosophy, and evolutionary theory to martial arts, geology and molluscs (just to offer some random examples of topics that you might find on less-popular sites), but because Mr. Stelter devotes himself with such unwavering fidelity to his field, his readers, once hooked, know that every time they come back they are going to find something else that is sure to interest them — and come back they will.

Finally, by choosing to write about TV news — reporting on reporting itself — he has set up a self-reinforcing loop, a re-entrant feedback circuit, in which he talks about people who make their livings talking about people. He offers his audience a tuned and reverberant chamber in which the news about the news can bounce and echo, becoming the news about the news about the news, and so on. It’s brilliant.

Mr. Stelter’s story is at the same time encouraging and dispiriting. To someone like me, who feels weary at the prospect of spending further years lashed to the workaday oar, and who would gladly trade it in for the freer, if equally demanding, life of the scrivener, it is encouraging to see that there are indeed possibilities for such success in this new medium. It is also fascinating to see how flat the world is now. Every point on the Internet is just as visible as every other, and it is gratifying to note that suddenly, simply by attracting the right sort of attention, one little blog can be lifted from the teeming ocean to become a prominent — and permanent — feature of the landscape.

But the story also makes me keenly aware of the differences between a Brian Stelter and me — not only do I lack his drive, and his talent, but I’d go mad simply banging on the same damn thing day after day, when the world offers the curious mind such a diverse and beautiful garden in which to wander. I suppose it’s safe to say that waka waka waka will never be a TVNewser.

And I’ll be back in the office as usual, early next week.

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