The Editor Behind the Imprint

  • By CUNY J-School Staff

Tim Harper gives feedback to Nadja Thomas from the Class of 2013.
We are thrilled to launch the CUNY Journalism Press, which will publish books on journalism by prominent writers, starting in January. True to our innovative heritage, we will offer the books as print-on-demand paperbacks and multimedia e-books available on various digital platforms.

We’re proud of our first four titles: Andy Carvin’s brilliant account of covering the Arab Spring via thousands of tweets; Jim Goodale’s inside story of the Pentagon Papers case, while he was an attorney at The New York Times; David Lewis’s multimedia biography of Nat Hentoff, the columnist and jazz critic, and Steve Weinberg’s comprehensive’s history of investigative reporting in America.

I can’t think of a better person to run the CUNY J-Press than Tim Harper, a member of our faculty since opening day in 2006, a distinguished journalist, and the author of 12 books himself. In his spare time, Tim has built a successful consulting business that has helped dozens of people get their books written and published at places that include Random House and Oxford University Press.

If Tim were so inclined, his own life would make a marvelous memoir — the story of a boy raised in a working-class family in Peoria, Illinois, who realized a boyhood dream of becoming a journalist. His father, a janitor, and his mother had little formal education but they encouraged him to read a lot and pursue his dreams. “I had the crazy idea that I could be writer, see the world, and make a living,” he says. At age nine, he walked a paper route in Peoria, and at 15 he sold his first article to a neighborhood weekly. He won a scholarship from the Peoria Journal Star, offered to aspiring journalists, to major in journalism at Drake University in Des Moines. He became the editor of his twice-weekly college newspaper (a paying job!) and supplemented that income by stringing for UPI, holding various parttime jobs, and working summers at the Journal Star.

After graduation, he joined the Associated Press in Milwaukee. It was the post-Watergate era when journalism was in high repute, and Tim soon decided to go to law school — not to be a lawyer, but to enhance his understanding of the legal system and perhaps cover legal issues. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin law school in Madison, and though he graduated on schedule, he spent much of the time continuing to report for the AP. In 1980, he signed on as a national writer for the AP in New York — traveling far and wide. Yes, he wrote about legal issues, but he also covered America’s invasion of Grenada in 1983, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, mass murders, tornadoes, and ship accidents. “My bag was always packed,” he recalls. “It was the best daily journalism job I could have imagined.”

In 1984, Tim and his wife Nancy moved to London, where she was a business correspondent for Reuters while he pursued a very successful freelance career that continues to this day. Tim has written for nearly every major newspaper and magazine — including the usual suspects, from The New York Times and Newsday to the Atlantic Monthly and Time — but also for such outlets as Seventeen, Glamour, Metropolitan Home, and Cooking Light. I have known a lot of journalists in my time, but few with the range of Tim Harper — in subject matter and in journalistic format from wire-service to books.

At CUNY, Tim teaches several courses, including our introductory course, The Craft of Journalism, a boot-camp experience that has students covering various neighborhoods in the city, filing on tight deadlines, and mastering the basics. Tim is known for his tough-love approach, a drill sergeant who drives his students hard, yet is always available for one-on-one coaching and an after-class confab. At the end of the semester, he publishes his students’ best work in a paperback book presented to each of them. “He barks at us a lot,” one student told me, “but he brings out the best in us.”

The new CUNY J-Press will tap all of Tim’s manifold skills and energy — as an editor, as an author, and as an entrepreneur who knows how to build a publishing business. As the logo for our new imprint, Tim has chosen a bridge. It’s an apt image, he says, because it symbolizes several things at once: New York, a city of bridges; CUNY, a university that provides bridges for working-class and immigrant communities; and book publishing, an industry now bridging the traditional and digital worlds. “I’m very pleased with our first four books,” Tim says.

So am I. Some good book reading awaits us all.

Stephen B. Shepard
Dean, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

From the Fall 2012 issue of InsideStory.