Behind the FRONTLINE: Andrew Metz ’91
Managing Editor of PBS’ FRONTLINE Andrew Metz ’91 recently returned to Hamilton for a screening of Exodus, a documentary about the stories of refugees and migrants fleeing challenges like war and persecution, told from their personal perspectives. Metz previously worked at CBS’ 60 Minutes. Communications Office student writer Lynn Kim ’21 had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with Metz.
How did your experience at Hamilton influence your career choices / in what ways did it shape you into who you are today?
I’m pretty sure I caught the Middle East reporting bug at Hamilton. A confluence of things was happening around this time: the Gulf War; From Beirut to Jerusalem had recently come out; I spent my junior year abroad and traveled a lot; and most of all, I took Erol Balkan’s class, Political Economy of the Middle East. That class ended up being a springboard for a lot of my thinking and curiosity about the region; it evolved into a thesis and an abiding interest throughout my career as a journalist. And for nearly 30 years, Erol has kept the dialogue we started back then going – literally, you can fact check that.
Can you tell me about your progression from CBS to FRONTLINE and why you made the career shift?
For a number of years before I got into broadcast journalism, I was a newspaper journalist. I worked for several newspapers; the last one was the New York paper, Newsday, where I spent around 9 years before going to CBS. I kind of had a mid-career change. Sometime after being in the newspaper world for a whole bunch of years, I went from doing all sorts of newspaper work to almost starting over in television.
Why did you choose to make that change?
I had done a lot of different jobs in print journalism, the newspaper business was constricting, and I was looking for something new. It was scary but exciting. I shifted gears and went to the CBS’ 60 Minutes, and learned the whole process of telling stories visually. At the core of our effort as journalists is writing, reporting, communicating, but to translate that in visual terms, it required a new set of muscles and new way of thinking and working. 60 Minutes was an extraordinary place to work; really the highest level of broadcast journalism.
Then around 2013, I made another big change. A good friend of mine who I had known …. around 20 years, was becoming the executive producer of FRONTLINE. We had stayed in touch over the years and had always talked about working together. She wanted me to come and join her as the series’ editor. It was a big opportunity to go from producing my own pieces, working on my own pieces, to helping run an entire show. So that was another major shift, and it has been a great experience.
What kinds of films do you serve as an editor now? Do you get involved in the selection process, and if so, how does it work?
With the executive producer, we oversee the entire series, everything that happens at FRONTLINE: all of our films, our digital work, our podcasts. FRONTLINE has been around a long time and has a huge reputation, but it’s a small place – it’s not a big bureaucracy, so the executive producer and I are deeply involved in the story selection and development.
Can you tell me what it was like working on Exodus?
It’s a really a unique film. At FRONTLINE, we’ve done many films on the crisis in Syria and throughout the Middle East, but this one stands out. It’s a story about the refugees in their own voices. Often the films we do have narration; there’s a narrator, a voice, a reporter, but this one is told in the voices of the people themselves. Many had their own cameras, shot a lot of the footage themselves, and the producer was able to use these intimate personal moments as well as his own deep interviews with the characters. That is a big reason it was so successful, so effective, such an award-winning film. Also, while the film illuminates the story and the struggles of Syrian refugees, refugees from the Middle East, it also looks at the situation from a global perspective. So, there are refugees and migrants from places like Africa, from Afghanistan. It’s an extraordinary tale of people leaving their homes, searching for better lives, from all over the world, and heading by and large to Europe.
Will this spur your continued involvement with refugees?
We did a follow-up after this first film that aired earlier this year. It continued following the characters we met in the first film, and introduced us to new ones. It’s a story we’ll keep examining from all different perspectives because it’s so important.
What are your thoughts about the future of journalism?
It’s a really important and challenging time for journalism. At FRONTLINE, we are focused on continuing to tell stories that need to be told and upholding standards that we take very seriously – standards of fairness and accuracy and journalistic rigor. That’s what’s on my mind a lot, as I think about what we’re doing, what we are going to do, and as I think about journalism right now.