“Full Disclosure” is of course the name of Roben Farzad‘s popular RadioIQ podcast. But before we get into that, here’s a full disclosure worth noting: This columnist laughed — a lot — while preparing this week’s piece (and hopes you will as well).
For who else, on his LinkedIn shingle, would list as one of his student activities while attending Princeton, “Friends of General Tso’s Chicken”?
A man of many media talents, Farzad didn’t hold back when I asked him about his time at Goldman Sachs; how an MBA could help print journalism; and whether he has another book in him. You’ll also learn which Hollywood star he could be compared to, at least if that person came in a Persian version. (It’s the first time I’ve encountered such a hypothetical.)
Roben credits many people for helping him along the way – impressive when you consider how much attention many media figures try to draw to themselves and only themselves. Journalism is competitive – a wealth of accomplished candidates for a dearth of coveted slots. That’s why I love to hear about the people who, instead of displaying sharp elbows, show compassion and grace as they build others up.
Dawn Wotapka: Tell me about your current job with NPR. How did it come about?
Roben Farzad: I don’t work at NPR; I think of myself as a friend of the brand. My radio show, “Full Disclosure,” is carried by NPR member-station RadioIQ and a handful of low-power public radio stations and I appear on NPR’s “Here & Now.” At BusinessWeek, I used to do a ton of NPR appearances — and would love hearing from people in my childhood; “Hey, I was driving and heard you on All Things Considered or Weekend Edition.”
When BusinessWeek was acquired, I jumped at the chance to host Bloomberg Radio with the late Ken Prewitt, who was like a 1920s radio character. Dapper dress. Incredible wit. Brian Lehrer of WNYC would have me on and I just fell for this idea of demystifying topics over the airwaves. When I moved to Virginia, I wanted to launch something of my own. Podcasts took off, seed funding materialized and so here I am: The one that you love. [Editor’s note: Feel free to cue up Air Supply soundtrack here.]
Dawn: You’ve worked in print, television and audio journalism. Is it easy to go from one to the other? I can’t figure out how I’d convince someone in, say, TV, to hire me if I lacked experience.
Roben: I credit my golden voice [click here for a sample of Farzad’s “financial” singing] and preternaturally good looks. Mom says I’m the Persian George Clooney.
I never forget the people who opened doors for me across all three mediums. At the turn of the century, Justin Fox — then with Fortune — met me at the old Judson Grill and introduced me to various magazine editors. Twenty years ago, Sara Sarasohn, then with NPR, called me out of the blue to suggest adapting some of my magazine commentaries for All Things Considered. Other NPR producers heard those pieces and started booking me. In TV: Sue Herera (then of CNBC) and Diane Lincoln (of PBS NewsHour: took chances on me; I got to do some on-the-ground pieces for NewsHour a few years back. These days, MSNBC’s Katy Tur kindly puts up with my on-air singing. I’m grateful all around.
Dawn: Goldman Sachs isn’t on a journalist’s resume all that often. How does one jump into the media field from there?
Roben: Frankly, by hating the job enough that you long for your college newspaper-writing days and send cover letters and college newspaper clips to 500 editors. Of course, this was back when magazines were heavier than phone books and biz editors (especially Mark Vamos — a saint! — Lord bless the man) were willing to take a flier on a remorseful spreadsheet and PowerPoint concierge.
Dawn: Do you think more journalists should have an MBA? Why?
Roben: Totally, totally optional. As is J-school. Keep your cost-basis low, young journos, and prepare for so much career volatility.
Dawn: What did you learn in business school that could help print publications be more profitable?
Roben: Nothing, to be honest. Too many newspapers outside of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal never found a way to innovate out of their biz-model spiral. I cannot believe the extent of newsroom contraction in my quarter-century of professional journalism. Man, to have been a fly on the wall in the heyday of Netscape, when print execs reasoned: “Sure, put it all out there for free.”
Dawn: Do you have another book in you?
Roben: I’m heartbroken right now that my book, Hotel Scarface, struck out with Hollywood; I was really looking forward to a screen adaptation. On certain mornings when the cold-brew high hits, I believe I have another book in me. I just don’t know if the industry has a decent advance in it.
Dawn: What advice would you give your younger self?
Roben: People can be unbelievably and unashamedly transactional. So many will flake, ghost and gaslight – across all industries. Expect to not hear back. Thicken your skin, young man. Take comfort in friends and family. Enjoy your 20s: No one’s keeping score. Buy Amazon stock at $5.
Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn.