Joseph Farah was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on July 6, 1954, to parents of Syrian and Lebanese ancestry. His father, John, was a schoolteacher. Farah graduated William Paterson University, in Wayne, New Jersey with a B.A. in communications. He is married to Elizabeth Farah and is an evangelical Christian.
Farah worked for six years as executive news editor at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. On July 22, 1990, Farah became editor of the Sacramento Union. The paper had been losing up to $3 million annually, and in early 1990 it was acquired by Daniel Benvenuti, Jr., and David Kassis from Richard Mellon Scaife.
Farah and the paper's owners envisioned the paper as a conservative alternative to the Sacramento Bee. "We just thought the way to go was to be unabashedly conservative in our approach," explained Farah to the Washington Post. Among other things, Farah convinced Rush Limbaugh to write a daily column, which ran on "Page 1."