On Wednesday afternoon, I got a text from a reliable source that Brian Stelter, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources and the lead author of its late-night newsletter of the same name, had been summoned to C.E.O. Chris Licht’s office. Apparently, Stelter emerged from the meeting looking ashen and refused to talk about the conversation with anyone. His co-author, Oliver Darcy, wrote Wednesday evening’s newsletter by himself. This morning, I confirmed that Stelter will be leaving CNN. His last episode of Reliable Sources will be this Sunday.
Stelter’s departure is both totally unsurprising and yet completely and utterly stunning. Eleven years ago, he emerged onto the scene as David Carr’s younger sidekick in Page One, the documentary about The New York Times’ critical struggles during the financial crisis. At the time, he was a lowly junior media reporter whom the Times, long blinded by the transformations in its own industry, had hired to cover news at a more new-media pace. And unlike most Timesmen, who hail from Harvard or Yale and traditionally climbed the greasy pole of journalism through its exalted regional players, Brian had gone to Towson University and started his own obsessive blog about the TV news industry, TVNewser.
In the film, Stelter evidenced many of the charms that would make him a media player: he was obsessed with the industry, and loved getting his views and opinions out on Twitter, and yet despite this new media prowess he undeniably respected the talents of his old media elders. He revered the late Carr and Bill Carter, a Times reporter and author of The Late Shift, the classic tale of the Leno–Letterman imbroglio. Stelter’s star rose further when his reporting penetrated 30 Rock’s indelicate defenestration of Ann Curry. His byline frequented A1, and his source base in TV news was legendary. His book, Top of the Morning, was excerpted for a New York Times Magazine cover and would go on to be partly adapted into Apple’s Morning Show.