Raney Aronson-Rath ’92
A New Era for Frontline
It takes real diplomacy to seek truth behind the Ebola crisis in West Africa or famine in South Sudan. Raney Aronson-Rath ’92 is up to the task.
Aronson-Rath is sifting and winnowing at the pinnacle of journalism as the second-ever executive producer of the PBS investigative series Frontline. She took the top spot in 2015 and has been recognized for driving innovation behind the series’ respected documentary journalism. A recent look at Ebola in West Africa marked the program’s inaugural report in virtual reality — a big step in Frontline’s expansion into new storytelling frontiers.
“We’re trying to tell some of our hardest stories in virtual reality,” Aronson-Rath says of the presentation style, shot and produced to provide a 360-degree, immersive experience when viewers use a special cardboard device paired with a smartphone. “Sometimes being immersed in an environment that you can never yourself go to can really help you understand the world better.”
That’s the mindset that Aronson-Rath had when leaving home in rural Vermont for UW-Madison, anticipating a career as an international diplomat. She double-majored in history and South Asian studies and learned Hindi and Urdu alongside international students.
“I wanted to be fluent in multiple languages, and travel the world, and live overseas, and have that access to the rest of the world,” she says.But she experienced a decisive career-path twist: the newsroom of the Daily Cardinal, where, as a freshman city-desk reporter, her editor often pushed her to “go make it better.” The Cardinal was just the start of what would be Aronson-Rath’s many collaborations with fellow Wisconsin journalists, including Pulitzer Prize winners Lowell Bergman ’66, Walt Bogdanich ’75, and her then-editor, the late Anthony Shadid ’90.
“I think a lot of us who grew up at the Cardinal then went into serious journalism because we saw the potential as young people,” recalls Aronson-Rath, who went from a postgraduation reporting gig in Taiwan to roles at ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and, in 2007, to Frontline as a senior producer.
Today she is headquartered at WGBH-TV in Boston, where she lives with her husband, NPR correspondent Arun Rath, and their two young children. Aronson-Rath says anyone who wants to understand the world better should be watching Frontline.
“We essentially tell you in a deeper way what’s happening, and we make sense of it for you,” she says. “Or, we tell you it makes absolutely no sense, and this is why.”
Published in the Spring 2016 issue