Towson alum Brian Stelter’s visit to campus brought in a number of interested students, professors and others within the mass communication department to the event spotlighting him and run by students and staff last Thursday night.
An estimated 150 people attended the event, which featured an introduction of Stelter by student members of the Society of Professional Journalists, a viewing of the documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and a Q&A session to conclude.
The documentary covered the New York Times as an authoritative and recently challenged voice in an industry facing major changes.
Kristopher Jones, a student member of the Society of Professional Journalists and an audience member, said the event was important because Stelter was a member of the Towson community who can offer good advice.
“We wanted to bring him in to share the experience with everyone,” he said.
The students of SPJ and various members of the mass communication department worked together to put together the event. Devin Hamberger, a member of SPJ, said that everyone involved was very excited for the event.
“I’ve heard so much about him but I’ve never actually seen the film and I’ve never actually met him before,” Hamberger said. “So having him come here and be able to interact with him one-on-one and ask him personal questions and everything is just a really great experience.”
Hamberger said she personally was interested in pursuing a career in journalism with many different elements, something that Stelter mentioned was important later in the event.
“I think the most important thing is to definitely have that multi-platform,” she said.
During the Q&A session, Stelter said the New York Times “sets the agenda” for the news America reads but has gone through difficult times.
The Times, Stelter said, went from being the top paper in the country to potential bankruptcy and has been changing since a low financial point in 2009. He said there were many people in denial about the reality of the situation due to the prestige of the paper.
“There’s a difference between ‘shouldn’t fail’ and ‘can’t fail’” Stelter said.
As stands now, Stelter said, insecurity pervades the newspaper industry. He said organizations like WikiLeaks and ordinary individuals have taken actions that used to be reserved for professional journalists and that the power of the internet has been drastically influential in this.
He said these changes mean that journalists should be flexible.
“We can all be reporters now,” he said. “We’re going to need to keep adapting.”
Stelter said the biggest change at the Times currently is that the website is now charging readers to subscribe. “It doesn’t save us,” he said. “But it does give us stability.”
The important strategy for that, he said, is to write things that are “so damn compelling” that people will want to subscribe. News, he said, is a commodity worth paying for.
Younger generations of students aspiring to be journalists are setting “fresh new ground for growth” in terms of changing and improving journalism, Stelter said. He said it’s essential for students to get out there and establish themselves.
“We have the metabolism to just start doing it today,” he said. “Whatever you think it might be, go and start doing it today. Don’t wait.”
Stelter said that even as a seasoned professional he has his bad days along with his good days.
“A lot of my stories are failures,” he said. “You can have failures in private and successes in public.”
Stelter said despite the amount of work and irregular hours his career requires, he still writes all the time and actually gets a reasonable amount of sleep.
“I try to look like I’m always working,” he joked. But only, he said, so that his boss would think he was available all the time.
Still, when asked about his personal ambitions, Stelter said he’d be perfectly content to work at the Times “until the day I die.”