It’s likely you’ve heard the work of Sean Carberry.
Perhaps you listened to WBUR in Boston while he produced and reported there. Maybe you liked Susan Tedeschi’s 1998 album “Just Won’t Burn,” for which Carberry received a Gold Record for his work as a recording engineer. Loyal followers of Carrie Bradshaw & Co., take note: Carberry worked with Four Piece Suit on its music for HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
You likely haven’t heard his contributions to the music scene in Kabul, Afghanistan, but he and his guitar make appearances in local theaters, restaurants and other venues — in between his reports as a foreign correspondent. That’s probably where you’ve heard him most of all: “Sean Carberry, NPR news, Kabul.” He joined SPJ in 2003 and is a member of the Washington, D.C. chapter.
“I’ve been playing more guitar since I’ve moved to Afghanistan than in the 10 to 15 years before that,” Carberry said.
He’s certainly done a lot in the last two decades — guitar-playing and reporting among them — but journalism wasn’t his first career. Or his second. By the time he got into the editorial side of the industry, it’s fair to say he was on something like career number 3 1/2.
After first graduating Lehigh University with a degree in urban studies, he attended and taught at Berklee College of Music. He then spent 2 1/2 years with his dad’s mortgage banking company before the chance to live and work as a musician came along.
Carberry found success in music but sought more stability. While searching for it, he saw a WBUR job posting for a technical director.
“It looked like something that made sense, and I always had an interest in journalism,” he said.
His audio knowledge got him a part-time gig learning radio operations, and WBUR eventually hired him as a technical director. He took on producing roles, too, with “The Connection” and “Morning Edition.”
In 2004, Carberry departed journalism to work on political campaigns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but he returned to WBUR in 2006 as a political producer (in between, he got a Masters of Public Affairs degree from Harvard). He has consistently worked in journalism since.
He learned quickly in his transition from engineering to editorial, but the two complemented each other.
“I could tell he had a reporter’s take on things and also had a really good ear,” said Margaret Evans, senior news editor at WBUR. She worked with Carberry when he was a political producer. “He’s a musician, and you can hear that in how he puts things together.”
Evans noted his relentless dedication to producing quality work, regardless of working conditions, and this served him well when he moved on to “America Abroad” in 2007.
“The show was unlistenable before Sean got there,” said Jordana Gustafson, who joined Carberry at “America Abroad” in 2010. “I think when the show was at its best, it was Sean’s stamp that was on it.”
Gustafson and Carberry were on a team at “America Abroad” that won the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentaries (101+ market). The winning piece was “The Arab World’s Demographic Dilemma,” which was a three-part series on Arab youth, covering issues that emerged later as the Arab Spring. Gustafson highlighted Carberry’s work ethic and courage as factors in his successful international work.
“It was a really thrilling project to work on,” Carberry said.”It was one of the more fulfilling moments I had up till then.”
After four years with America Abroad, the organization moved in a different direction, and Carberry looked the opposite way, specifically, toward NPR. Within weeks of joining NPR in 2011 as a producer on the foreign desk, Carberry traveled to Libya with Lourdes Garcia-Navarro to cover the fall of Tripoli. He was a fill-in for the summer of 2012 in Afghanistan, and he returned in October to stay until 2014.
Aside from his impromptu music gigs in Kabul, journalism will remain the primary focus among his many interests, he said. Given all that, it’s no wonder his guitar fell to the side for a bit.