the 14th edition
HP Webmasters Interview
Melissa Anelli, 24, a journalist for the Staten Island Advance (a daily newspaper in New York City), is the Managing Editor of The Leaky Cauldron.Org (TLC), one of the foremost Harry Potter Fan News Websites on the Internet today.
As part of her work with TLC, Melissa has been for gala premieres and press events around the world, and has even been interviewed by BBC Radio. UrbanWire has an instant messaging interview with her to find out more about the inner workings of TLC, and what it's like juggling a day job and the running of a huge fan site.
How was TLC started?
Melissa Anelli: "TLC was started as a Geocities-based Web-log in 2000 by Kevin C Murphy (a web developer) just before the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [the 4th Harry Potter book]. A bunch of fans were tired of scavenging for news and sought to file all [the Harry Potter news] in one place, so they used Blogger, and word got around. Later, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) web developer B.K. DeLong started bombarding TLC with news, and finally Kevin said, "Listen, why don't you come onboard?" B.K. [ended up] doing most of the posting, [and later] Kevin C. Murphy said to B.K., "Look, you're doing all the work, just take the site."
"TLC was a fan-oriented thing from the beginning - it was just a bunch of Harry Potter fans trying to keep each other informed and, on the way, create an archive of HP news that would document this phenomenal phenomenon."
Melissa Anelli: "I had just graduated college and [gone] back to re-read the [Harry Potter] books, and my love for them was reborn. I had to find out when the 5th book was coming out. Now, you have to understand, when I tell people I'm a journalist, I mean... really. I like finding things out. I don't know why. I love searching, and the gratification of finding your answer. So, I decided that I was going to find out when book 5 was coming out. I had just decided that someone, somewhere in the world knew, and I would find that person. This was in Sept 2001. So, you see, not even [Harry Potter author] J.K. Rowling knew. So, I found a bunch of sites, and started hanging out around the HP community. I bounced off a few message boards (where I met some people with whom I'm still very good friends), and did some work on a news site for the old HP Galleries.
"One of the editors on HP Galleries was an editor on TLC, which is how I found it. And then I thought, "Wow, this site is great, I like this site." And I started sending them a lot of news. I basically started looking up things, left and right, and sending it to them. And then the Vanity Fair magazine spread came out, that had the first ever pictures of the kids [from] the movies, in costume. It was a big photo spread, the fans were very anxious about it. They all wanted it. So I marched down to my local store and demanded they give me a copy from the unopened box, the night before it was due to be released. Somehow they agreed. I went home and scanned [it] and sent [it] to Leaky, giving us a big scoop. B.K. said, "Uh - why don't you come join us?" I said, "OK!" And that was that."
Melissa Anelli: "Well, TLC was always just news. The entire concept was to consolidate news, and we've found that staying true to that concept has kept Leaky's purpose on the Web clear and effective. If we started becoming a super-site, we would outstrip our own resources, and would have even less time than we already do. Part of the purpose of the Floo Network [a network of different Harry Potter websites, including Steve Vander Ark's HP Lexicon] is to expand what you can find on Leaky (or any of the other sites on Floo) in general, without having to burden the web masters of each site further."
Melissa Anelli: "On a daily basis, we use e-mail. The email@example.com address, that people use to send us news, is also useful for us to talk to each other. It's a mailing list; we all get a copy of each email sent to it. So if I have a question for the editors, I send it to that address. Email is so fast, and so easy to use from almost anywhere, that it's rare we have a problem. If something is urgent, we all have each other's cell phone numbers."
Melissa Anelli: "The first time was for the "Get
a Clue" Drive [an international fund-raising event run by
TLC to get enough funds to win a rare document with clues from J.K.Rowling
about the 5th Harry Potter book months before it was published] and then
they tend to call when something big [Harry Potter-related] happens.
I think that was my first radio interview, and I was unbelievably nervous.
That week had been insane, because the Get a Clue stuff was really
spreading and I was doing an interview every hour or so. And all of a
sudden I had to talk live on radio where I could make a perfect fool of
myself if I so chose. So anyway they got my number off the press release,
and they called. And I was so freaking nervous. I kept cutting the guy
off to get in plugs for the site and the drive, speaking like a motor
Melissa Anelli: "Well, when I joined TLC, we were a purely reflective site - that is, we just posted what was posted elsewhere. I wanted to change that. I thought it was natural that we should be doing our own reporting. We were the fan link, a valuable resource, and I wanted Warner Brothers and company to recognise that. So I started emailing and calling and pestering the hell out of them. It took months, [and] then one day there were some really ridiculous rumours about the filming of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban and I knew they were false, but could not say so with any real authority, so I finally got someone on the phone [from Warner Brothers], and she was nice. We had a long chat and I came away with our first exclusive info.
"For further inquiries, she shunted me off to someone else because
the HP thing wasn't really her arena [and after a lot of shunting around]
finally I was speaking to someone who had answers. Since then WB has been
wonderful to us. It's the 'rich get richer' syndrome; 1 contact yields
6 a lot easier than 0 contacts yields 1.
Melissa Anelli: "The most important things TLC has done are
the charity drives. Those have been the most wonderful weeks in the site's
history. We've raised $30,000 in just one year, buying thousands and thousands
of books for people who need them. It's true magic [TLC sadly lost the
bid for the "Get A Clue" rare J.K.Rowling document, and
instead donated all US$23,000 to Book
Melissa Anelli: "TLC plans to keep on "truckin",
keep on bringing HP fans their daily fix- uh - news. We do have some big
things planned for the future but I can't go into too much detail. All
I can say is, some interesting voices will be heard. Keep watching, because
you won't be disappointed!"
All photos courtesy Melissa Anelli.