Thursday, March 2, 2017

CNN host Brian Stelter honors mentor, inspires students at ACP journalism conference

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter talks social media with
journalism students Feb. 27 at the ACP conference in Los Angeles.
Photo by Christopher Trotchie/The Commuter

LOS ANGELES -- We need more reporters, and not as many pundits, people who think they know all the answers, according to Brian Stelter.

Stelter is CNN’s senior media correspondent and host of “Reliable Sources,” the weekly TV program that examines media and journalism. He got his professional start as a media reporter at the New York Times, after launching a blog called “TV Newser” when he was still in college.

On Feb. 27 Stelter was the keynote speaker at the annual West Coast conference of the Associated Collegiate Press, which attracted some 700 journalism students, advisers and media professionals from around the United States and Canada. He filled in for his mentor and former New York Times colleague David Carr, 58, who died Feb. 12.

In his talk, “What David Carr Taught Me About Journalism,” Stelter paid tribute to Carr and shared with students the skills and attributes he believes they will need to succeed in journalism in the 21st century.

In addition to the skills of the trade -- reporting, interviewing, writing, mastering social media -- Stelter said students must have a passion for journalism. His own passion for reporting and commenting on media goes as far back as his childhood, when he created a website to write about R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” books.

Today, Stelter joked, he and the popular author follow each other on Twitter!
When he arrived at the Times, however, he was not so confident he belonged among the likes of Carr, who Stelter described as the “most important and influential media reporter of our time.”

Stelter said he kept his head down and kept reporting and writing as many stories as he could, gaining confidence and the skills he needed to succeed with every published story, which quickly numbered in the hundreds in his first year at the Times.

“I absolutely did not belong there,” he recalled. “I was terrified.”

Like his mentor, Stelter believes good journalism results from thorough reporting and interviewing. Journalists have to exercise curiosity, make phone calls, and write with confidence.

Stelter recalled Carr saying that a funny thing happens when you do more reporting and more interviews -- a story gets more complicated. It’s the responsibility of the reporter to sort it all out and explain it to readers.

These days, students must be multi-taskers -- versatile and talented. He noted how he recently broke a story that involved writing an article for CNN’s website, which posted the story the same time he reported it on TV. Meanwhile, he had already teased the article on social media, and linked to the full story soon after.

Building video skills will be essential for journalists, he said. Americans watch an average of five hours of video a day. That’s not going away.

It’s also “vitally important” that students take their “personal brand” seriously. When they “google” themselves, the top 10 results better be work they’ve created.

Think about specializing in something, he urged all the young reporters in the audience. “Follow your passion. What can you do better than anybody else?”

Most people today don’t trust the mainstream media, he said. Every day journalists have the opportunity to earn the public’s trust or further erode that trust.

David Carr was terrified of making an error, Stelter said, and so should every journalist.

As for the future, Stelter said he shares Carr’s optimism -- not just for media but also for the young people heading down that career path.

He ended his talk by quoting from one of his favorite Carr columns, “The Fall and Rise of Media,” which was published in the Times in November 2009:

“Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

“For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.”


Rob Priewe and Brian Stelter talk
journalism at the ACP conference.
Photo by Christopher Trotchie/
The Commuter
At a glance:

  • Brian Stelter is CNN’s senior media correspondent and the host of “Reliable Sources.” Before that, he was a media reporter for the New York Times.
  • “Reliable Sources” airs at 8 a.m. Sundays on the West Coast.
  • Follow Stelter on Twitter by way of @BrianStelter or @CNN Reliable.
  • Or search “Reliable Sources” on Facebook.
  • Stelter, along with David Carr, is among the journalists featured in the 2011 documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times.”
  • “I had a lot to learn from David Carr. He would say, he learned more from me,” Stelter said. “‘Page One’ really solidified our bromance.”

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