As I start typing this, the bad-news volcano that Google News has become is quiet.
I have to scroll down a third of the way on the page before I find words like “bailout”, “billions”, “Fed”, “Wall St.”, “debt”, “recession”, “Great Depression”, and “fail” (now as a noun). Partisan shrieking from angry legislators down Pennsylvania Ave. has been dispersed into the provinces, as Congress stands up bravely to pledge their support for never letting this happen again, should they be graciously re-elected, and no major banking institutions have failed in what seems like weeks. Ah.
But it won’t last. The choking financial sector malaise we’re all trying to understand will find a new way to confound us and make us cynical (then angry) about regulators and financial markets we had never before heard of.
It’s a tough time to read the news in America, not in the least because understanding the problems that grip our attention and promise to grip our wallets involves becoming fluent in the kind of market-speak arcana that allows you instantly to tune out a chatty day trader sitting next to you on a plane or train. I can’t think of a situation where giving the public an accurate view and context for what’s going on relied so heavily on decoding the behaviors and world-view of a specific industry that (as we just learned to our disappointment) holds quite a lot of power over our daily lives, actually.
I listen to Chicago Public Radio's This American Life for stories about quirky outcasts, childhood traumas overcome, dreams fulfilled that then grow sour, all presented in a bookishly smart, pop-culture conversational radio format perfect for long drives and lazy Saturday afternoons—financial market news, not so much. But for the past few months they’ve been painstakingly walking listeners through the sub prime mortgage meltdown and the wider financial crisis and credit freeze. A blog and ongoing podcast will take us through whatever comes next.
The project is a collaboration between This American Life producer Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson, a seasoned NPR business reporter. Blumberg is a financial reporting novice whose lack of any contextual background knowledge had him asking the most basic questions about the chaotic state our economy is in (“Why would banks give sub-prime loans to people who weren’t able to pay them back?”). But then this allowed him to walk listeners back through the answers, step-by-step. Their first collaboration (“The Giant Pool of Money”) takes listeners along the money chain from home buyer, to mortgage lender, to Wall St. baron. Their second show (“Another Frightening Show About the Economy”) explains why credit markets screeched to a halt in September, the federal government’s reaction, and credit default swaps, an unregulated practice that’s about to be shoved into the light in very big way. Both are available to download. It’s the best user’s guide to the day’s financial news that I’ve seen.
An entry on the duo’s Planet Money blog asks readers to give the editors an outline of their financial situation (their job, their economic concerns), so that they can call for an interview Friday morning and place your issues in the context of the global economic situation. It might not be the step-by-step in-depth clarity of their This American Life programs, but it’s better than cowering in advance of the next shockwave.
As I finish typing this, the top story on Google news is now about Yahoo cutting it’s workforce by 10 percent . Where’s that next podcast guys?