In the Twitter ‘bio’ field where most people put their job descriptions, Osman Faruqi’s simply reads: ‘Australian icon’. But beyond simply being iconic (and ironic), Osman’s paid profession is also his ideal gig: head of audio at Schwartz Media and now, host of the masthead’s new weekly arts podcast, The Culture.
Hosting a podcast about books, film, music and TV is what Osman has wanted to do ever since he accidentally entered the industry as an environmental engineering student with his own local radio show (he never ended up finishing that degree!).
Before he was hired as the editor of 7am at the beginning of last year, Osman was an investigative reporter at the ABC’s award-winning Background Briefing audio program, which he landed after being the news and political editor at Junkee, and the co-host of ‘Backchat’ – a weekly current affairs show on Sydney’s community radio station FBi.
The Culture is the culmination of all this experience across arts, politics and current affairs, aka nearly all of Osman’s interests. Every Friday, he’ll have conversations with critics and creators about the latest books, film, music, TV and the way culture intersects with the social zeitgeist. He’s basically our own Wesley Morris.
Now for the million dollar question: just how did he get there? Os gives us the lowdown.
When I grew up I wanted to be…?
Osman: Honestly…I wanted to be a firefighter. Sadly I didn’t have the build or the stamina. I never thought about journalism which is funny, considering that’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my career and have ended up. I just never saw people with my background telling the stories that I thought were important, so I didn’t think it was a profession for me.
What’s been the most important verb in the ‘get your dream job’ lexicon and why?
I think it’s ‘listen.’ Landing jobs that you love comes down to a combination of factors, including working hard and persevering, but to be honest, most of it is luck and privilege. Very few (if any!) people are born with the skills that make them successful. Most of the time it comes from learning from those around us. And the most important part of learning is listening. It doesn’t mean you have to replicate exactly what the people around you, or your mentors, are doing, but it does mean learning from what works, and maybe more importantly, what doesn’t work.
How did you land your current job?
I actually got approached to take on the role as editor of 7am when I was still working at the ABC. I wasn’t really hunting for a new gig, but the idea of being able to work on a show that I had a lot of respect for and could play a role in shaping was pretty tempting. I’d also never lived in Melbourne before and thought that this was a good excuse to give it a go. I don’t regret it (yet).
7am has grown so much over the past year that it made sense for us to start talking about what other audio offerings we should be developing. That’s how my role morphed into what I do now as head of audio: thinking about new projects and managing the pipeline of what we’re all working on.
You’re the host of the newly launched podcast, The Culture. What’s the show about?
This is the kind of show I’ve wanted to work on since I got my start in journalism. Some of the first work I did was music and film reviews, and even though I’ve spent the majority of my career working in news and current affairs, I’m always stoked when I have the chance to write or talk about culture, especially TV, film, and music.
Long-form, compelling and engaging cultural criticism is pretty rare these days in Australia, but I think it’s so fundamental in helping us understand the world we live in. A show like The Culture seemed like a no-brainer. The Saturday Paper and The Monthly have such great critics, people like Shaad D’Souza, Anwen Crawford, Christos Tsiolkas and Sarah Krasnostein. Being able to talk to them about the art they love, what’s popular and why, and all the ways culture intersects with society and politics was a really exciting idea.
Every week we’ll go deep on a particular topic. It could be a show, a film, a record or an artist, and we’ll talk about their work, what we like or don’t like, and how it fits into everything happening around us.
What does a typical work day for you involve?
Most days start with me calling Ruby Jones, the host of 7am, on the way into work. We talk about how we thought that morning’s episode of the show sounded, what worked, and what we could have done differently. I think it’s always important to evaluate your own work. We also chat about what’s in the news, and what we think we should cover next.
When it comes specifically to 7am, the rest of the day is a pretty hectic combination of planning our episodes, thinking through interview questions, listening in on interviews, and working on edits. I also work pretty closely with the editors of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly to stay across the stories they are working on, and what might work for the show.
These days, in addition to that, I’m also thinking about what to talk about on The Culture, which is actually pretty fun because it involves a lot of watching TV, film, and listening to great music.
You’re pretty prolific on Twitter – How do you feel about the platform?
The best thing about Twitter is that it helps people who might not already be established voices express themselves, and if people relate to or appreciate their ideas, they’ll start to develop a following. That definitely helped me early in my career. I remember being commissioned by editors who came across my tweets and asked if I would expand on those for an article.
The worst thing is how overwhelmingly toxic it can be. I definitely don’t use it the way I used to. It’s really hard to have conversations and step through anything that’s even vaguely complex. Nowadays I just use it to share things. It’s a bit of a shame because I miss when things were slightly more in good faith.
What do you feel are some of the key challenges facing Australia’s media industry right now?
I think a huge problem is the trust deficit between journalists and the audiences we profess to serve. I don’t think the industry has really grappled with that seriously enough. Journalism, and in particular, using it to hold powerful people and institutions accountable, has never been more important. But we’re living through a moment where so many people view journalism with scepticism, and in a lot of cases that’s entirely founded. The sad thing is that even good and important reporting is tarnished within this broader context of distrust.
I think it’s going to take a lot of time and hard work to rebuild that trust, but it’s incredibly important to do. I think at least part of it is about making sure the industry looks and sounds like the rest of the country, rather than the white, middle-class bubble that currently dominates the profession.
Do you have any advice for aspiring media professionals or journalists?
Community radio is where I learned to cut my teeth, and I think it’s a great place to work to learn and practice the craft. It’s also literally never been easier to start your own podcast. One of the best things about the medium is how it has upended the traditional model of relying on a big mainstream publisher to pick you up. Some of the best and most popular podcasts are independently made. Go for it.
The first episode of ‘The Culture’ dropped on Friday. Listen and follow on Apple, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app.
This story was shot on location at The Espy podcasting recording studio, which is available for individual, community or commercial use. Click here to book.