Just a few years after graduating from the Towson University College of Fine Arts and Communication, Brian Stelter ’07 exemplifies the new age of journalism as a reporter for The New York Times. He’s been featured in the acclaimed documentary “Page One” about the Times, anchored the Media Decoder blog and covered a variety of subjects ranging from Comcast and Netflix to the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and Hurricane Irene.
Stelter, who has gained quite a following on Twitter with a 140-character limit, proved he excels in longer formats this spring when his first book landed on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
A former editor for The Towerlight, Stelter visited campus a few weeks ago to see his younger brother, Kevin, graduate from the College of Liberal Arts. We caught up with him to sign a copy of “Top of the Morning” and ask a few questions.
Why did you want to write a book? Why did you choose to look into morning TV?
The notion of writing a book was first brought up by an agent in 2007 when I first moved to New York. She’d email me every few months to see if I had an idea or even inkling for a book and I’d tell her no. It was inspiring that she thought I had the ability to do it even before I did.
Signing on to write the book was like someone signing up for a marathon before they were ready. It gave me motivation. I had to prove to myself that I could write a book, that I could run a marathon.
The first idea I pitched was about cable news, but it didn’t sell. I ended up brainstorming with an editor and we came up with the idea of morning news. The landscape was changing and it seemed like the right time. After looking around, doing a Google search, nobody had tackled the topic. With all that was happening at “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show,” it was perfect timing.
Now that you’re a published author, which medium have you found to prefer?
People know me as a Times reporter. The most exciting moments in my career have still been breaking news moments. That’s where my heart is. That means breaking the news on Al-Jazeera buying Current TV or even something like the impact of Rupert Murdoch’s divorce. There is something so immediate and exciting about breaking news, especially in this era of Twitter and that immediacy is expected.
It was fun and challenging to write the book because it was a different experience. I found that my best working hours were 4-7 a.m. when nobody else was awake. I had to find my own voice and write analytically in a new way. Then when the New York Times Magazine published an excerpt and I had a chance to see the rigorous fact checking, I was blown away. It gave me a new perspective on the process.
What I’m struck by the most is the permanence of a book. I’m used to writing my story and it being published and then I’m on to the next issue. I still get people sending me messages about buying the book. It did burn most brightly at the beginning, but there is such an extended life for a book. I’m also working on a paperback that will have some updates, so that will keep it out there longer.
What was it like being back on Towson’s campus for Commencement?
This makes it three for three for us. All three of the Stelter brothers are now Towson graduates. It wasn’t intentional, or else we would have bought real estate in the area had we known we’d spend so much time out here.
It was great to see the new Tiger Arena. I still haven’t had a chance to walk around the new West Village, but I’ll be sure to do that sometime soon. The campus looks so much different so quickly.
Last year I came back for a screening of “Page One” and had a chance to talk to some mass comm students. It was surreal standing at the front of the Van Bokkelen lecture hall and talking out to a crowd. I spent so many days in there as a student myself. I would sit and hear from alums that work for newspapers and it would be such a motivator.