If you are one of the millions of people who listen to National Public Radio for news about the world economy, then you have probably heard Rutgers alumnus Alex Goldmark.
Goldmark, a 2001 Rutgers graduate, is a producer on the show Planet Money, a unique audio look at today’s economic issues, a prime platform in the declining world of journalism that he landed through grit and determination, an approach that began at Rutgers.
His path to radio started in New Brunswick, where he majored in international economics and politics.
“I looked around and thought to myself, what is the biggest, most interesting thing happening in the world, and I thought it was globalization, a newish word back then,” says Goldmark, who lives in Manhattan. “So I designed my own major, part economics, part history and part political science, and found a professor – Roy Licklider – to be my adviser.”
His economics background, along with an insatiable curiosity, has come in handy on the job, where as a supervising producer on the twice-weekly show he is responsible for developing novel story ideas and bringing them to the air. The team’s approach is to use everyday situations to illustrate fundamental economic issues, like the time the crew got into the oil business. They went to an oil field in Kansas and bought 100 barrels of crude oil and then followed it through pipelines, refinery and every step up until a gas station. (Journalists by training – they lost $800 in the transaction.)
Goldmark never took a course in journalism, nor did he work for the student newspaper. But he always loved public radio. “I always kept a boom box by my bed,” Goldmark says. After Rutgers, he headed to Georgetown University to get a master’s degree in public policy – which he describes as a “kind of MBA for do-gooders.”
Shortly after graduate school, he began to pitch stories to local public radio stations, even though he had little experience. He took a D.I.Y approach. “I went to eBay and bought a minidisc player and some used microphones for $150. I did a 45-second piece on spec, and they said try again. My ideas were good, but I just wasn’t very good at executing them,” he says. “I was trying too hard to sound like people on the radio instead of just talking. They told me I needed ‘more seasoning.’”
Following graduate school, Goldmark worked as a researcher at the Aspen Institute and the World Bank in Washington. He pitched his radio ideas on the side and had some success – two short pieces that ran on WNYC’s Marketplace and WAMU, Washington, D.C.’s NPR station.
Then it was off to Brazil to work for the nonprofit Viva Rio, where he was assigned to a project aimed at keeping kids from joining drug gangs. His part-time efforts to be on radio continued in Brazil, where he got his first big break: The NPR correspondent was just leaving. “Without knowing what a stringer was, I became a stringer for NPR in Brazil,” he says.
Next, he signed on for a two-week training course at London’s BBC Radio, perhaps the most prestigious broadcaster in the world, where he wrote copy for newscasts and shadowed producers.
Later, Goldmark worked at Air America Radio, a progressive talk-radio network, and as contributing editor at Good magazine. More and more, he began to realize that he wanted to work in public radio. “I remember thinking I have a five-year goal to be working at WNYC, and within five years, I was there,” he says.
In 2008, he was hired by WNYC as a senior producer, piloting new programming and helping to grow young shows to the point “where they now have their own coffee mug pledge gifts.” He found his voice reporting for NPR shows like Radio Lab, Marketplace, On the Media and Note to Self, which he worked on as a producer and on-air talent for two years.
During the summer of 2015, he was offered the position of supervising producer for Planet Money. Given his major at Rutgers and early career, the show was a natural fit. “Sometimes our debates at the office sound a lot like a microeconomics class,” Goldmark jokes.
“What makes me really proud is that I hear from teachers and professors who say they use Planet Money in their classes because of its clear, concise explanations of important things and that the show makes students more engaged than the average textbook,” he says. “That makes me feel we are doing something really good.”
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