Last night we attended a live recording of On Point with Adam Davidson and David Kestenbaum of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. The recording, held in The State Room in downtown Boston, was a fundraiser for WBUR. The episode aired today and was a good conversation on how they’ve tried to explain complex economic news in an understandable and engaging way. I captured a quick video from the evening’s conversation.
Like many others I was extremely impressed with This American Life’s “The Giant Pool of Money” episode last year - even buying the CD version so I could give it to family not familiar with podcasts - and have listened to Planet Money since last fall’s economic meltdown. They’ve managed onto a winning formula of both being more explanatory and less formal than typical economic reporting. For example, Planet Money hasn’t shied away from dry subjects like explaining collateralized debt obligations or credit default swaps. And after spending time on Capital Hill Kestenbaum was rather forthright that he felt unconvinced that many lawmakers really understand the complexity of the financial markets they oversee. But perhaps the best aspect of the show is that they themselves are struggling to truly understand complicated economic issues along with the listeners. The quote of the night was from Davidson, who when asked about the difficulty of covering economic news after the crisis compared it to his feelings about Iraq, saying that “America went from fascination with Iraq to boredom without ever passing through knowledge.” Hopefully shows like Planet Money are small steps to helping actually learn about how the real economy works.
(But what is it that makes radio personalities look quite different than from how their voices lead you to expect? When I saw Adam Davidson in a Frontline special I was somehow rather surprised that a public radio economic reporter was a bit nerdish. What are the odds?)