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Curiosity Takes the Wheel

After years on the editorial side of the news, at both The Emory Wheel and The New York Times, Robbie Brown 07C decided to flip to the business side. He pursued an MBA and now serves as the general manager and director of strategy and business development at Bloomberg Media.

By Bethany Greene

Another example of #emoryeverywhere—Scott Cunningham 00Ox 02C, Robbie Brown 07C, and Lisa Sweat 08C have a mini Emory reunion at Punch Restaurant in New York.

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After an exciting post-grad year of studying in Europe, traveling, and freelance writing, former Emory Wheel editor in chief Robbie Brown 07C was on the cusp of choosing law school over journalism. Then, The New York Times posted a job opening that changed his mind.

“All of the things that have made it hard for news organizations were starting to be true,” Brown says, referring to the increase in the speed of news, the rise of blogging, and the early days of “fake news.” “The business model was falling apart, and it seemed like a risk to go into journalism. Law school seemed like the safe and easy thing to do. 

But Brown has never been interested in “safe and easy.” As he reminisces about his early days at The Emory Wheel, the eager freshman who couldn’t wait to get his hands on his first news story has always had an insatiable interest in the world around him—and a taste for adventure. After spending five years at The New York Times—covering topics as varied as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a camp for purebred dogs to reconnect with their hunting skills—Brown let his curiosity take the reins once again and decided to pursue an MBA at Columbia Business School.

Brown and McDermott deliver EmoryWire

The Wheel won’t deliver themselves, but they have to get out somehow. So, on Commencement Day 2006, because of a snafu—which Robbie says is a long, long story—he and fellow editor, Meg McDermott 08C, loaded hundreds of copies in the back of Brown’s car and delivered every single one.

“The things that were interesting to me had less to do with writing and reporting and had more to do with the business side of running a news organization,” Brown says. Now the general manager and director of strategy and business development at Bloomberg Media, Brown combines his professional experiences in journalism and business to make corporate strategy decisions for the news organization.

In an age when the pressure of a singular career choice weighs heavily on the minds of many young adults, Brown’s career shift offers an alternative to such a rigid mindset. He doesn’t view his career as stagnant. An advocate for self-reinvention, Brown emphasizes that change is a natural process—interests change, industries change, careers change, and that’s just fine.

How did you get involved with The Wheel?

I actually emailed the editor of The Wheel even before I went to college. They basically told me I was a little overeager and that there's nothing to do in the summer, but to come to their first meeting in the fall. I got involved, and it very quickly took over my life in college.

How did your time at The Wheel inform your career path and help you get to where you are now?

Tremendously. I became a journalist after college, and I still work at a news organization, so in a very direct way The Wheel helped me figure out what I wanted to do professionally. Almost as important, it was just enjoyable to be in an environment where the thing that was most rewarded was an insatiable interest in the world, or in the things happening around you. A college newspaper is such a great training wheels version of that. You get this low-risk opportunity to test out being a journalist.

What was the most memorable article you wrote? 

There was some controversial news happening at the Carter Center because Jimmy Carter had published this book [Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, Simon & Schuster, 2006] on the Israeli-Palestine conflict that was very divisive, and a lot of the members of the Carter Center board resigned in protest over the book. It just happened to be that all of their resignations were the day before we had a long-scheduled interview with Jimmy Carter, so we got to sit down with him at a time when he wasn't doing any press interviews. The New York Times and The Washington Post were writing about the controversy, and by sheer dumb luck the only news organization that could talk to him was The Emory Wheel.

How did your leadership role at The Wheel prepare you for leadership in your field?

The Wheel operates sort of like a small company except the only people in charge are all under 22 years old. Being on the leadership side of an actual news company doesn’t work that differently. How you manage a team. How you get people motivated to work hard. How you deal with the fact that you don't have infinite money to spend. These are the basic questions that you think through when you're at The Wheel, and they are still the things that you think through when you're 35 and it's your job.

Robbie Brown 07C

Robbie Brown at the Clairmont Campus, circa 2007.

Why did you choose Emory?

When you grow up in Atlanta, you know that Emory has a great reputation, so it was always on my list. I applied to a lot of different schools, but Emory ended up being the place where I felt really comfortable.

What is the best advice you have received?

Follow your curiosity. If there is something you find yourself intellectually interested in, pay attention to that. It’s very easy to drift into a job that isn't related to something you really care about, and that’s a shame because almost everybody has a thing that just clicks. If you can find a way to have that be the thing you do every day, then how lucky is that?

What media do you consume?

A lot. For pleasure, the three things at the top of my news diet are podcasts, magazines, and books. When you have a job at a screen all day, it’s very easy to get into the habit of quickly clicking through things, or spending five seconds reading a headline, but it’s an opposite experience to sit with a book over the course of a week.