Thursday, June 5, 2014

Rob Brunner (GSAS '97), Senior Editor at Fast Company

Rob Brunner is a senior editor at Fast Company. He was previously an editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine, GQ, The Awl, and Men's Journal, among other publications. He currently teaches at NYU at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. You can follow him on twitter @iamrobbrunner.

You've interviewed a number of people over the years. Do you have an interview that stands out in your mind as being one that you are most proud of? Did you ever have an interview that didn't go so well?


I’ve been lucky enough to interview a bunch of my musical heroes, whether it was driving around Northern California in Tom Waits’ Chevy Suburban, getting a guitar lesson from Richard Thompson (challenging for him, since I don’t play), or just chatting with Jay Z, Brian Wilson, Patti Smith, Pete Townshend and George Martin (not at the same time, unfortunately). One of my worst (or maybe best?) interview moments was when Jon Bon Jovi almost punched me. I had asked him a couple of semi-humorous (I thought) questions about the band’s then-recent collaborations with Britney Spears producer Max Martin and video director Wayne Isham, who, I lightheartedly pointed out, had just shot an ’N Sync video. Bon Jovi was not amused. “I’m going to beat the cluck out of you,” he said, only he didn’t say “cluck.” “It’s going to be easy,” he added with a scowl. But it turned out okay. After a moment he cooled down and the interview continued.

Tell us about your course at NYU, Reporting the Arts. How would you explain your teaching style?

It’s a broad look at pop-culture journalism with a heavy focus on writing assignments: reviews, Q&As, blog posts, profiles, trend stories, etc. We have a lot of fun (class projects sometimes involve going to the movies and interviewing musicians), but we take entertainment writing seriously and work quite hard. The class emphasizes practical, real-world skills—how to produce the kind of work that magazine and website editors are looking for right now.

What advice do you give to your students who are interested in going into journalism as a career? 

Just dive in: Write as much as possible about all sorts of different things. You can learn a lot from great teachers and editors, but experience is crucial. And read! Magazine profiles, criticism, novels, nonfiction books—it will all improve your writing, especially if you read closely and try to work out how the best stuff is put together. Good writers are usual avid, careful readers.

 Outside of the classroom you are a Senior Editor at Fast Company and What are your responsibilities in this role? 

Fast Company is a really exciting place to work (and not just because we recently won Magazine of the Year at the National Magazine Awards!). It’s a business magazine that focuses on innovation and creativity rather than finance. I edit features, both in the magazine and online, and work on various other parts of the magazine, including packages like the 100 Most Creative People in business. I also do some writing (in the current issue I interview Jerry Seinfeld and The Fault in Our Stars author John Green), and I still cover entertainment as a freelance writer. My work has most recently appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ and Rolling Stone.

What are your thoughts on social media? Have you found it to be a useful tool to interact with fans of Fast Company and even some of the people you have interviewed?

I’m a big fan of Twitter, which is a great way to interact with readers and other journalists. It’s also good for promoting your work, of course, but more important, it alerts you to all kinds of great writing that you might have missed otherwise. Anyone who thinks Twitter is dumb isn’t following the right people.

What are your thoughts on the future of magazine publishing? Do you think print magazines are doomed? 

I suspect print magazines will stick around. There’s something about flipping through those shiny pages that you just can’t replace. People love magazines and still read them in big numbers. But certainly there is a shift toward digital, and that isn’t a bad thing. There’s now so much great magazine-style writing out there—both in print and on the web—that it’s hard to keep up. My highly subjective, totally unsubstantiated sense is that people are more excited about longform journalism than they have been for quite some time. Channeling that enthusiasm into a sustainable business is an ongoing challenge, but I’m optimistic.

What are you currently watching? 

The same stuff everyone’s watching: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Good Wife. I’m a big fan of Louis C.K.’s Louie, which some people find off-putting because it’s about a comedian and takes the form of a sitcom but isn’t really a comedy. There’s nothing else like it on TV. I’ve also been spending a lot of time with Comedy Central’s iPad app. They’re now producing a ton of truly funny material: Stewart and Colbert, obviously, but also shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, Broad City and Kroll Show.

What are you reading? 

I recently interviewed Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard for GQ, and I’m quite taken with his six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical novel, My Struggle. I promise it’s better than that description makes it sound. My office is quite close to the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, and I spend way too much money there on international crime fiction. I’m now working my way through a stack of novels published by Soho Crime (currently one by Dutch writer Janwillem van de Wetering). And I’m excited to dig into The Essential Ellen Willis, a new collection put together by her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz. I was a student in Ellen’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU, and her work has been a big source of inspiration.

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