Guy Raz, 41, is the host of NPR’s “TED Radio Hour” and a new podcast, “How I Built This.” He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.
Yes. [Laughs.] And I was always embarrassed by my name when I was a kid because my parents were immigrants, and they gave me this really weird name. And I was teased mercilessly as a kid, but as an adult I chose a profession in which an unusual name is a value-added thing.
Yeah. I’m interviewing people for probably about an hour, and we edit these down to as long as we think they should be. I work with amazing producers and editors on both the “TED Radio Hour” and “How I Built This.” If it was just up to me, what would come out would be a disaster, because it’s very hard for any person to edit himself. So I’ll say, “Let’s make it longer,” and the people I work with are like, “Nah, this will actually sound better.” So it works out.
I think journalism is a profession with failure every day. With calling people or knocking on doors and having people tell you to go to hell or something less polite. There are those little failures every day. But for me, and anyone who is around my age and doing journalism, trying to break in, the struggle of trying to capture someone’s attention and convincing them that you can do it was a series of failures.
My first big break came out of a failure. It was an article I wrote on spec for the Washington City Paper about an artist who draws nude models in his car while he drives. I wrote the article. It was in 1998, and the paper was ready to publish it, and then my editor called and said ,“Actually, we discovered that we ran this article five years ago, so we’re killing it.”
I was crushed. I was a young reporter, and I was embarrassed, and I thought this editor was going to think I was a fraud and a total failure and a phony. And on a whim I went through a media phone book that we had, and I found this guy’s name. I’ll never forget it; his name was Joel Garreau at The Washington Post. And I faxed it to him. And he didn’t know who I was, and he published it. And that was a big break. I had a piece in the Style section of The Washington Post.
Even as I progressed in my career, trying to become a show host was very hard. That was years of failing. Trying to convince people to give me a chance to do it. And being told that I wasn’t the right person for that kind of job and that I didn’t have the kind of personality to be a show host. That was crushing. But I think that those failures are crucial. And by the way, I’ll have more of them. And some will be harder to deal with than others.
Yes. I got that email, and I asked my mom if I could put it on Facebook. And she said fine. She doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter and I don’t think realizes how many people have seen that email now. It’s the perfect mom email because she said, Great job, so proud of you. Now, here’s my criticism. And by the way, can you give me some IT support, please?
I’m always intimidated, but the beauty of the people I get to interview is that with almost no exceptions, everyone is very generous. I’ve had this incredible luck to approach these people in a childlike way and say, Hey, look, I’m not dumb. I’m a moderately intelligent person. And I’m really excited and interested in what you do. Can I ask you some questions? I really just want to understand what you do. And everyone is excited to share that information. It’s awesome.
[Laughs.] I always donate online, and I highly recommend everyone reading this donate online.
That’s fine. That’s totally fine. The most important thing to do is do it now.
Don’t feel guilty about not doing it. Just give what you can. It will help.
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