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July 21, 2022, 9 a.m.
Audience & Social

YouTube hit Channel 5 News is “reporting for people who don’t watch the news”

“People who don’t watch the news watch me. People who watch the news don’t watch me.”

A recent college graduate with an oversized thrift store suit and curls like Napoleon Dynamite, Andrew Callaghan doesn’t necessarily look like a credible source of information. But Channel 5 News, Callaghan’s web series and brand, has built a following including 1.93 million YouTube subscribers, and the 25-year-old pulls in roughly $100,000 per month through Patreon.

“I think I provide a gateway to engagement with reporting for people who don’t watch the news,” Callaghan, 25, told me. “People who don’t watch the news watch me. People who watch the news don’t watch me.”

Since hitting the road in 2019, Callaghan’s work has evolved beyond a parodic presentation of small-town news. He recently reported from Ukraine, interviewing the mayor of Lviv and refugees in the country and across the border in Poland. Much of the money that Channel 5 brings in is spent on operating costs for the traveling production, and the rest is split evenly between Callaghan and two collaborators.

During his college years in New Orleans, Callaghan started hitchhiking the American South between classes. When local filmmaker Michael Moises started an Instagram show called Quarter Confessions, Callaghan became one of several hosts asking drunk people on Bourbon Street to tell embarrassing secrets.

After college, Callaghan was eager to get back on the road, this time with a cameraman and the stoic correspondent persona he perfected while interviewing drunk tourists in the French Quarter. A social media content studio called Doing Things Media offered to provide a $45,000 salary, a $10,000 budget, equipment and an RV. Nic Mosher, Callaghan’s best friend from college, became the de facto cameraman. Their first budget went toward entry to Burning Man, the festival in Nevada where they filmed the first episode of “All Gas No Brakes,” a web series owned by Doing Things Media. A few months later, Callaghan convinced his hometown best friend Evan Gilbert-Katz to join them as the lead producer. They crisscrossed the country interviewing people at fringe events like The Raid of Area 51, Midwest FurFest, and Donald Trump Jr. Book Club.

When protests over George Floyd’s murder by police erupted in the summer of 2020, Callaghan, Mosher and Gilbert-Katz went to Minneapolis. The comments on “Minneapolis Protest” made it clear that their Black Lives Matter coverage was filling a void. One of the top comments, liked by 18,000 people, proclaimed that “All Gas No Brakes officially has more journalistic integrity than any cable news org.”

“I love this because he is solely showing the footage of the riot, the words of the protestors on sight, and not pushing any agenda,” another commenter wrote. “I finished this video not knowing at all what his political opinions are about the riots, just having learned more about what it was actually like to be there.”

Later in 2020, Callaghan, in partnership with Doing Things Media, landed a movie deal with comedy giants Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, with Jonah Hill and A24 later joining as executive producers. During production of the film, which is slated to be released this fall, their usual breakneck production of social media content slowed. According to Callaghan, Doing Things Media — which still owns All Gas No Brakes — was frustrated by the reduced pace and wanted the team to stay away from political topics. He says the company pushed out Mosher and Gilbert-Katz, declined his attempts to renegotiate a profit share that gave him 20% of the revenue, and ultimately fired him, too. (Doing Things Media referred me to a statement that Reid Hailey, the CEO of Doing Things, gave to The New York Times in 2021: “We’re really bummed it didn’t work out with Andrew. It was a special moment in time and we’re excited we got to be a part of it.”)

Callaghan, Mosher, and Gilbert-Katz spent the rest of the year working on the movie, which follows the Stop The Steal movement up to the insurrection on January 6, 2020. Soon, they were back on YouTube under a new moniker: Channel 5 News.

The name “Channel 5” helps the team get access to subjects and events. They bought a news van, wrapped it with their graphics, and added fake satellites on top. While the brand is part parody and part camouflage, it also serves as a marker of their evolving journalistic pursuits. Most recently, they covered a pro-choice rally, traveled to the NRA conference and spoke with locals in Uvalde, Texas, following the school shooting, and attended the Satanic Temple Gathering (AKA SatanCon) in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Callaghan doesn’t consider himself a journalist in the traditional sense. “Journalists are the ones who break stories. I cover reactions. Big difference.” He rarely posits his own opinion, choosing to cover stories through the words of his subjects instead, and often sticks to open-ended questions like “What’s going on?” and “What’s on your mind?” “Andrew is just a normal guy treating people like humans,” Anna Rumbough, a fan from San Francisco, told me. “That’s what brings out such good interviews.”

“I’m trying to push a radical empathy agenda, and get people to think about why [other] people act and feel a certain way, as opposed to vilifying them,” Callaghan said. But Callaghan and Channel 5 are not without their detractors. Some think of Channel 5 as “bro-nalism,” referring to the all-white, male team. Guest correspondent Sidam — who’s covered events like the Uhuru March for Reparations in Oakland, Calif., where he remarked on the absurdity of white people gathering cash donations framed as “reparations” to build a basketball court thousands of miles away in Missouri — is Black, but doesn’t own a stake in the company. A Berkeley City College student told me he finds Channel Five content to be “very, VERY white,” pointing specifically to the videos about Crip Mac, a recurring subject who promotes gang life. “Its coverage of black topics is kinda ignorant… When yo family member is WACKED OUT by the streets, whether it be drugs or gang life, that shit ain something to put on camera and have dancin around like that,” he told me on Instagram. Callaghan noted that he plans to build a diverse roster of correspondents — “Canal Cinco, Punjabi Channel 5″ — but he believes it will happen naturally when more like-minded talents surface on their own. “I want a female correspondent,” he said.

Callaghan believes that independent creators like him will gradually replace the traditional pillars of journalism, “just because there’s so much distrust in media as it is … left and right.” Until then, Callaghan, Mosher, and Gilbert-Katz will have the opportunity to further shape the coming generations of journalists and social media reportage.

“I pretty much create news content for the disengaged,” he said. “That’s the achievement.”

Theo Schear is a filmmaker and freelance journalist. He shoots for the Golden State Warriors and his work has appeared in publications such as Juxtapoz, SFMOMA’s Open Space, Film Threat, and Deadspin.

Andrew Callaghan attends the St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. Photo by Theo Schear.

POSTED     July 21, 2022, 9 a.m.
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