November 12, 2013

In July, CNN announced that New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter would participate in a tryout on “Reliable Sources,” the Sunday media show that had recently been vacated by longtime host Howard Kurtz, who managed to do the show while also holding down other full-time work.

Such appeared to be the model that Stelter had in mind. “I would not leave the Times for a television job,” Stelter said in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog.

Now it turns out that Stelter has left the Times for a television job.

A CNN release states that Stelter will not only take over as host of “Reliable Sources” but will also report “on trends, personalities, and companies across the media spectrum — from news to entertainment.”

In a press release statement, Stelter said, “It is an honor to take the helm of Reliable Sources, the very best of a very small number of programs about the media’s role in society. I’m equally excited about reporting throughout the week on CNN’s many digital platforms and television networks. CNN is reimagining media coverage at what is the best time ever to be covering media, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”

It’s a good get for CNN. Stelter is young — 28 — and could well help the network haul in some of his contemporaries, a valuable demographic on the advertising front. He also happens to be plugged in to digital and TV media, which is where his roots lie. While a student at Towson University, Stelter founded TVNewser and has broken more than his share of stories about cable and network television. A true TV geek, Stelter spent months watching multiple screens early each morning as he researched his 2013 book “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World,” though the volume took a beating in a New York Times review.

The best explanation for Stelter’s about-face on leaving the New York Times lies with CNN itself. Kurtz juggled the job with various other assignments, including full-time media reporting for the Washington Post and heading up the Daily Beast’s Washington bureau. An informed source tells the Erik Wemple Blog that when the “Reliable Sources” bake-off began last summer, the part-time model remained central to CNN’s plans. As the marathon “Reliable Sources” tournament wore on, however, CNN changed its thinking, contemplating a full-time position divided between its digital and TV platforms. For that position, it hired Stelter.

Perhaps Stelter should have said, I would not leave the Times for a part-time television job that would create massive conflicts of interest with my New York Times duties.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.