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The Five Spot: Raney Aronson-Rath, Executive Producer, PBS’s ‘Frontline’

Raney Aronson-Rath, executive producer, PBS's Frontline
Frontline executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath is looking to new forms of storytelling like podcasts and interactive films. (Image credit: PBS)

Since 2015, Raney Aronson-Rath has served as executive producer of Frontline, PBS’s flagship investigative journalism series, overseeing production of more than 20 in-depth documentaries each year on critical issues facing the country and the world. As if stepping into the shoes of Frontline’s founder and seminal EP, eight-time Emmy winner David Fanning, during a post-Trump era of public trust headwinds blowing in the opposite direction of exactly the job she’s trying to do wasn’t tough enough? Aronson-Rath is also trying to transform Frontline for a new generation of news consumers, adapting the series into formats they pay attention to. Here’s what she told B+C senior content producer, technology Daniel Frankel recently, in a conversation edited for space and clarity.

What is the process for selecting a Frontline story? There are many different kinds of Frontline stories. Often, they are ones we’d consider the ‘biggest’ or most important of the year. But sometimes they are less well-known or understood — and literally might not get told if we don’t do it. The stories take different forms; they can be first-person, reporter-led, narrated or cinema verité. 

The common thread through whatever we do though is rigorous journalism brought to life in cinematic, narrative form. We’re always looking at the reporting, at the accountability, the questions being asked, the diversity of perspectives, and not just the present conflict but the context of whatever subject we are investigating.  

What Frontline stories are you most proud of? I always say that is like asking a parent who their favorite child is. I like them all! But I am most excited when our journalism is shining, when we are asking the tough questions of the people who should be held to account, when we reveal things that people hadn’t seen before or expose injustices or inequities. 

BONUS FIVE

What are you binge-watching? My family is re-watching Schitt’s Creek, Star Trek: Picard, Space Force and many others.
Which streaming services do you subscribe to? Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus
How do you get your news? The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, PBS NewsHour and NPR
Favorite everyday tech? Zoom, zoom and zoom! Sony Ci, iPhone and so much more.
How many times have you left the house this week? At least 20. Even in the pandemic I have to get out, and I am helped by a puppy who forces us all out of the house multiple times a day! 

This past year, I have been especially proud of the early decision we made to focus on those who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In light of the attack on the Capitol, I am also really focused right now on our years-long commitment to reporting on right-wing extremism and white supremacist and hate groups. This dates back to our “Documenting Hate” films with ProPublica, where we identified Charlottesville assailants — and there is much more we are doing in this territory. 

That reminds me: I am really proud of our collaborations with other news organizations. This has been a top priority for me at Frontline and our partners are just amazing. In the past year, we worked with the Associated Press, ProPublica, Univision, NPR, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Marshall Project. I hope I didn’t forget anyone! 

Are there important stories you think you’ve missed? As an editor and the executive producer, I believe there are always so many more stories than we can tell. We do a lot of international reporting as it is, but I feel there are so many more stories to be told around the world. 

How has the anti-press climate perpetuated by the Trump administration affected your job? In this climate, we have redoubled our attention to security, both physical security and on the digital security front. We’re accustomed to being vigilant with security protocols in the field internationally, but now we find ourselves more and more applying protocols to our reporters who are working domestically. 

Can you tell us about some of the new storytelling formats being explored under the Frontline brand? I love this question, as it’s one of my biggest passions. We’ve been implementing multiple new ways to tell stories — from podcasts, interactive films, short films and feature films — all with the goal of reaching a new generation of viewers. We are also now the fastest-growing
PBS series on YouTube, where millions of people sought out Frontline films, subsequently quadrupling our streaming numbers in 2020.