Anti-Establishment Truth Teller Kasparian Makes Forbes 30 Under 30
Forbes began publishing in 1917, and through the years its lofty reputation has matched the topics it covers. It is known as one of the most intelligent financial publications in the nation, maybe the world, with its focus on the elite, the moneymakers, the industry giants.
With such longevity and tradition, it also very much represents the establishment in the journalism world.
In January, however, Forbes recognized a proud member of the anti-establishment — California State University, Northridge alumna and part-time lecturer Ana Kasparian ’07 (Journalism), a young, opinionated digital media reporter for the YouTube generation — as one of its 30 Under 30 in Media.
“I was excited because I graduated from CSUN and kind of took a different route from what was expected of me,” Kasparian, 29, said of the honor. “Establishment media looked down on digital media then, and so when I think of Forbes, I think of the mainstream — I think of something that’s established. And I would never have guessed seven years ago that today, Forbes would take me seriously and consider someone like me successful.”
Kasparian is a co-host and producer for growing online news giant The Young Turks show. The Young Turks (TYT) has more than 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube, which is more than CNN, NBC News and Fox News combined on the social media network.
The company has grown immensely since Kasparian joined the team in 2007, the same year she graduated from CSUN. She recalls the number of subscribers at the time being about 5,000.
One reason for the growth has been the politically centered network’s commitment to telling the truth and driving change through news reporting, said Kasparian and TYT CEO Cenk Uygur.
In addition, the network is personality driven and challenges longstanding news media traditions, such as unwavering objectivity. Kasparian is a young journalistic swashbuckler who challenges that norm by coupling news reporting with doses of educated, but serrated, subjectivity. And she has no fear.
“Ana often goes further than I do in voicing very strong opinions,” Uygur said. “When she gets worked up, she can be very passionate and it has caused her to really let loose on some others in media. When she’s yelling at them on air as I’m sitting next to her, I don’t know if I should restrain her or applaud her. Mainly, I’m proud of her.”
“I would say I’m definitely rebellious,” Kasparian said. “It’s in my nature. But more than anything, I’m obsessed with truth telling, and the way the media was originally set up was for that purpose.”
Kasparian said her rebellious nature emerged when she was a teenager and she challenged the traditions of her Armenian parents. In high school, she became interested in politics. When she reached Los Angeles Valley College and joined its speech-and-debate team, the interest became a passion.
Later, while studying at CSUN, she landed an internship in traditional media working for news radio stations KFWB and KNX, but found it unfulfilling. Before graduating from CSUN, she heard about a temporary position at TYT, filling in for a vacationing producer. The program had launched in 2002 on satellite radio and became an online news show in 2005. She got that job and has been with the company ever since — starting as an entertainment reporter, and then pushing her way into the role of political analyst.
She has grown with the show, through its stints on MSNBC and Current TV, and the program is now streamed live for two hours Monday through Friday. Kasparian has earned notoriety, as well as respect as a journalist.
It’s somewhat surprising to her that she has received this attention, she said, because her path has diverged from that of many journalists, who had to incrementally build their careers from community newspapers, low-powered radio stations or far-flung TV stations.
She blazed a different trail because she showed and continues to show viewers who she is. She uses the occasional colorful word, and she’s an open book online. On her personal YouTube page, she discusses politics, social issues and her personal life.
“There was this notion that in order to be taken seriously, you had to be a straight news reporter who only did hard news, and you’re not allowed to show any personality or be who you are because it will delegitimize you as a member of the media,” Kasparian said. “But I don’t think that’s true. I think people want to get their news from people they like.
“I remember the first time I offered my opinion on the show, I was scared that I was destroying my career. I remember my journalism professors said, ‘Under no circumstance should you share your political opinions. It will destroy you.’ [I was under the impression that] you have to pay your dues, and maybe if you write op-eds for The New York Times, then you can share your opinions. Well, we’re unconventional in that we don’t follow that rule. We share our opinion, but we give our audience as many facts as possible so they can form their own opinions. And a lot of the times, our audience disagrees with us, but what they like is that we’re passionate about the topics we discuss. We cover topics important to them, and we give them the facts to decide for themselves.”
The shoe recently has been on the other foot. Kasparian has taught broadcast journalism classes at CSUN as a part-time faculty member. She said she emphasizes ethics and holding authority figures and government accountable for their actions. At its core, her teaching encourages students to become truth tellers.
Kasparian is not teaching this semester. In this election year, her focus is on TYT. She also recently received a promotion that puts her in charge of the network’s membership, which, along with advertising, is one of the show’s main sources of income.
Making the Forbes list as an individual would seem to make her a hot commodity for other media outlets, but Kasparian said she’s not going anywhere. She likes her editorial freedom and the ability to tackle social justice issues, and she said she believes she’s at the right place to do both — a place that the establishment has not only recognized, but from which it has learned and borrowed.
“This isn’t a stepping stone for me,” she said. “This is what I helped build. This is what I’m proud of. This is where I see myself staying for the remainder of my career.”