Although many teenagers may roll their eyes at the idea of analyzing the tedious policies of tax reform, health care, and waking up at 6:00 AM, 16-year-old Gabe Fleisher thinks otherwise. As the Editor-in-Chief of the daily political newsletter, Wake Up to Politics, Fleisher rises before school to inform nearly 50,000 people about the day’s happenings in Washington.
The political junkie has focused on creating a comprehensive and concise newsletter each day, ever since the 2008 election. An avid reader and writer, “something really struck” in Fleisher during the 2008 election season. “I think politics are really all around us. Yard signs, bumper stickers, T.V. Ads,” he said. “I started reading about politics, and I really just developed this passion.”
Soon, he began writing down and organizing everything he was reading about, and shared it with his mother. “I believe when I was about 9, that developed into the newsletter,” he said. “So [my mother] was my first subscriber.”
As his audience gradually increased, he was being covered by his local papers, and eventually, national news outlets. In May of 2017, Fleisher was informing about 2,000 subscribers each morning. After a piece about Fleisher written in The New York Times, he appeared on CNN, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and he grew his audience to about 48,000 subscribers.
The New York Times piece helped the Missouri local garner attention from prominent political journalists, such as Katy Tur of NBC news, Editor-In-Chief of Buzzfeed Ben Smith, Politico Founder Jim VandeHei, and many others who are subscribed to Wake Up to Politics. “To me, one of the coolest things, is that journalists who I really respect and admire subscribe to my newsletter,” Fleisher said. “There’s a lot of really great journalists and a lot of elected officials and political staffers too, who subscribe, which is very exciting to me whenever I see a name I recognize pop up.”
Although Fleisher covers Washington from his bedroom in Missouri, he always jumps at the chance to be at a newsworthy event close to home. Fleisher was able to secure press credentials to a democratic debate in 2016, after reaching out to a DNC spokesperson. When he arrived, he realized his credentials permitted him to the debate filing center, where the journalists watch the debate. However, he began having trouble getting into the spin room. He was sitting among many journalists from “The Washington Post, including Dan Balz, who is one of the eminent political journalists of our time,” Fleisher said. “I think he was noticing that I was trying to get these credentials for the spin room, and finally he went over and was very helpful, and very kind to me, and very generous.” With the help of Balz, Fleisher made it into the spin room and began reporting.
“It’s so amazing to be in, not a huge room, with these people, these important decision makers. And it’s just so exhilarating to run around, trying to get comments from as many people as you can,” Fleisher said. Being in the presence of not only the politicians, but the incredible journalists that inspire Fleisher, “is very cool.” “I feel very lucky to have that experience. Even though I’m so young, that they take me seriously enough to give me those credentials.”
While at that debate, Fleisher struck up a conversation with the then communications director for the RNC, Sean Spicer. “I started talking to him, and I got a comment from him on the debate, and he said to me ‘well, if you want to see a real debate, you should come to the one we’re having in January.’” Fleisher jumped at the chance to cover the Republican debate by emailing Spicer and taking him up on the offer. “He was actually the one who secured the credentials for me for the Republican debate.”
Although Fleisher spends much of his time focusing on the newsletter, covering political events, and following the latest breaking stories, he also attends high school, like most teenagers. Being a hardworking teenage journalist comes with its obstacles, including the lack of cell-phone access at school.
Fleisher recalled a particular instance when he missed a huge story when not having wifi. “Last spring, I went to a biology camp with my school, and we we were on the bus back,” he explained. “I’m trying to connect my phone, and trying to get a signal, and I start getting all these news notifications. The first one I see is ‘Schumer Responds to Comey Firing.’ I was like ‘what?!’” He explains, as if reliving the moment. While Fleisher had been at camp, President Trump fired then FBI Director James Comey. “My head was spinning. I was furiously just trying to reconnect and figure out what’s going on,” Fleisher said, now laughing at the incident.
“It oftentimes seems like I’ve missed a lot, especially now,” Fleisher said. For the budding journalist, transitioning into homework after a full news day can also be an obstacle.
On his goals for the near future, the high school sophomore hopes to attend college in D.C. He dreams of continuing the newsletter from D.C., adding to the reports he reads about, while also adding his own interviews, and comments from people he talks to. He also has his eyes on possibly covering the next presidential campaign. Fleisher admits that since he has been reading Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, a book detailing the experiences of reporters covering the 1972 presidential campaign, being embedded on a campaign is an additional dream of his.
On his motivations, Fleisher’s voice quickly picks up, as his passion for journalism is laced among his words. “It’s such an honor to be able to do what I do,” he continues. “I am passionate about politics, and I am passionate about our democracy, and I think it is so important and integral for people to be informed.”
“To be able to play some role in letting people know what’s going on, explaining the system to them, explaining how it works, explaining why it matters, talking people through what goes on each day, and if that makes my readers that much more of an informed voter when they walk in the voting booth, then I think it’s so important and I’m so honored to be able to do that.”
Note: Featured image via Microsoft News Center