The GOOD 100: Planet Money

Posted by Alex Goldmark

Global Finance

The best explanation of the financial crisis can be found on NPR.Like the housing crisis, NPR's popular new business-reporting unit began with a Giant Pool of Money. The so-named 2008 radio special provided the clearest, most logical explanation of the housing crisis around. Plus, somehow the explanation was fun, like eavesdropping on two very smart friends chatting over a beer. It helps that hosts Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg actually are old friends, interested more in human experience than in portfolio movements.A producer at This American Life, Alex Blumberg's stock-in-trade is personal stories, catching intimate moments of self-discovery on tape. But in 2008, he became obsessed with the idea that America was in a housing bubble about to burst. He ranted about it to his friends, and to his wife, until nobody wanted to hear it anymore-except Adam Davidson.
"His passion for finance bloomed when he realized that there were human-impact stories behind the earnings reports and stock surges."
Davidson is a business reporter for NPR, albeit a reluctant one. Raised in all-artist housing in New York's Greenwich Village, he wasn't exactly wired for the field. "Frankly, I was raised to think that people who cared about this stuff were either frustrated artists or just really boring, greedy people," he says. But his passion for finance bloomed when he realized that there were human-impact stories behind the earnings reports, stock surges or, say, a potential housing crash. So the pair decided to spend six weeks turning Blumberg's bubble obsession into a narrative for This American Life.The program came at a time when America could smell a looming economic catastrophe but even educated businesspeople couldn't grasp how it had come to be, and it was such a hit that NPR wanted more of it. Within four months, Planet Money was born as a podcast and an on-air reporting unit. Davidson remembers the launch: "I think it said [we had] three listeners, and I know I downloaded it twice." They've since grown to more than a million monthly downloads and a staff of seven. As the economy moves from crisis to calm, they plan to keep the casual explanatory style, but focus on a broader range of topics; trips are already planned for Africa and China. Indeed, Planet Money is going global.Read More From the GOOD 100 Issue