Ronan Farrow Hones Second Act for NBC News

Brian Steinberg
Variety

Ronan Farrow has moved from hosting a daytime program on MSNBC to chasing after nuclear vapors in Washington state.

In a report slated to air on NBC’s “Today” tomorrow morning, Farrow will take viewers inside the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington, a facility with a record of providing lackluster safety for the workers who toil there each day. “They’ve got multiple Olympic-size swimming pools full of the deadliest, the most toxic” material, said Farrow during a recent interview. “There are serious safety problems.” He believes he is one of the first national reporters to gain access to the facility as well as get reaction from the U.S. Department of Energy, which supervises the site.

The assignment finds Farrow trying to shine a light on topics like the ones he talked about on “Ronan Farrow Daily,” an MSNBC experiment that gave an hour a day to an exceedingly bright host who had to master the nuances of TV even as he worked to build an audience that, ultimately, proved hard to find. MSNBC cancelled the program as part of a bigger shift to bring more breaking-news coverage to its daytime schedule. Now, the 28-year-old correspondent is contributing longer segments to “Today,” “NBC Nightly News” and MSNBC, but with more worn shoe leather under his feet.

“There’s nothing like being at the desk for breaking news,” said Farrow. “But it’s also rewarding being in the field and having the time to get to the bottom of a story.”

Since arriving in the world of TV-news, Farrow has made a point of trying to cover stories he considers “underreported” by national news outlets In recent months, the Yale Law School graduate and founder of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Youth Issues, has examined a number of them, ranging from how college campuses handle sexual-assault allegations to voter ID laws, and, more recently, to Google getting involved in the fight against terrorist-organization ISIS.

“It’s not what everyone does. It’s not what our competitors always do,”he noted. “But it goes way back to me as a viewer craving these kinds of stories. There’s so much B.S. out there in the media world. It’s nice to just have really well-reported truths and the time to get them right.” Farrow has “carved out a unique role contributing special investigative pieces, and we’re thrilled to provide a platform for his work on ‘Today,'” said Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News senior vice president and executive in charge of the morning-news franchise.

The role also allows him to keep more attention on the stories at hand and less on himself. Farrow’s education is notable, but so is his background. He is the son of actress Mia Farrow and his MSNBC debut came with a bright spotlight that often focused on other issues related to his family. “The scrutiny is something out of my control,” he told Variety in 2015. “It’s not the easiest thing to deal with, I’ll be completely honest, but there are a lot of worse crosses to bear.”

To get the story of the Washington state nuclear facility, Farrow and producers “were fortunate enough to come into contact with a large number of workers who told us some pretty illuminating details,” he recounted. Indeed, a whistleblower first tipped him to new developments. He also acknowledged strong reporting on the Hanford site by Suzannah Frame, the chief investigative reporter at Seattle TV station KING. “She’s putting a lot on the line herself,” he said.

Viewers may well be upset by what they learn. “I was surprised by just how many workers have made credible claims that they have been hurt at this site and the years of internal government studies that back up their claims,” Farrow noted. “It raises bigger questions about the system of government contracting being used here, and whether it can contain threats like this.”

The stories he brings to NBC News now are not the easiest to get on the air, he said. “It’s a long process,” he noted, involving verifying the accounts of sources who are often putting themselves a risk to talk about  things that have gone awry. “It’s not glamorous. I’m in the edit room a lot. I’m talking to sources a ton and I’m running around the country a ton,” he said. The reward, he noted, comes in hearing from state legislators or college executives who tell him the reports have spurred them to try to make changes to policy.

He expects to continue to seek out issues that haven’t gotten much play in the national news media, and hopes to be tipped to them by viewers. “The whole concept behind the series is to crowd-source ideas, so I await the internet’s wisdom,” he said. There’s also a long-in-the-works book project that examines America’s funding of foreign armies and militias and the consequences that result. Farrow said he recently spent a week embedded in Kabul with a warlord turned top Afghan official, who showed up to interviews accompanied by a giant reindeer. It’s probably safe to say that hasn’t gotten much news coverage, either – at least, not yet.

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