Political debates can be star-making things. Out of the format comes a one-liner, a defining policy, or an impression so memorable it changes polls and voters' minds alike. But while the dust still settles on the two-night Democratic primary debate in Detroit, Michigan, on July 30 and 31, one thing is clear: Jaden Jefferson is ready to cover it all.
The 11-year-old reporter from Toledo, Ohio, made viral news on Monday, July 29, one night before the first debate: Senator Elizabeth Warren came to his hometown, so he took his place in the middle of the press line. He nabbed the first question of the night, and later, an exclusive interview with the senator.
Though he didn't expect it to go viral, he now says the interview with Senator Warren is his favorite story he's worked on so far. "It was a presidential candidate and I got an interview with her just like all other media outlets," he says. He had attended the event at the University of Toledo, where the Senator talked about labor and trade.
"Towards the end of the event, her press secretary came up to us and asked me if I wanted an exclusive with the senator. With me not really having a plan to get that exclusive, I was really excited to get the opportunity," he tells MTV News. "We had to wait until the selfie line was over; we then went into one of the offices in the building, and shot the interview. I asked a couple of questions about minorities and about her plans for industrial manufacturing in our country."
Jaden got his start as a reporter after meeting a few people in the field: A reporter he met in New York City when he was four years old sparked his interest, which was bolstered by meeting a meteorologist in Toledo when he was five. He fell in love with writing, and soon after extended that interest to multimedia journalism.
"I like to have control of my own story so I shoot, write, and edit my own stories," he explains, adding that he loves the work because "it's expressive. It's also informative. So I like to inform people to things I've learned and sharing that information with them, making sure that everyone's informed of details in their local community." He focuses on covering politics and city-beat stories and became more and more aware of the national stage during the 2016 election debates. As for how he crafts his questions, he operates by a holy trinity of rules: "You have to make it short, you have to make it informative, and you also have to make it relevant."
Tuesday marked his national debut on CNN, which he called "unreal but also exciting." But Jaden is still thinking about Toledo: He shouted out Kristian Brown, a 13ABC reporter, as his favorite journalist. "She really helped me to get into the business. She's letting me do live shots on the news," he explains. "She's just really inspiring."
He won't be able to vote in the 2020 election, but he believes that's all the more reason why hopeful candidates should listen to would-be constituents of all ages. "We have to pay attention to kids younger than 18 that can't vote," he says. "A lot of them still have something to say about these political candidates. They really want to get their point across and they want to be heard."
And while it was his interview with Elizabeth Warren that put him on the map, Jaden isn't about to start stumping for any one candidate any time soon. He followed that story up with another one-on-one interview with Ohio congressman Tim Ryan and is already working on more stories to serve to his 21,000+ Twitter followers.
"I want to also see how these candidates are going to be candid with the American people," he said of the race leading up to November 3, 2020. "Put politics aside and just be heart-to-heart conversation. People are tired of hearing the same old things and don't want to feel like they're at the bottom and the politicians are at the top. I really think that heart-to-heart really makes me feel that you're even to the politicians."