On my “run” through a wet Hamburg this morning, I listened, as is now my daily habit, to the NPR Planet Money podcast. The show – made by Adam Davidson, Alex Blumberg, Laura Conaway, and David Kenstenbaum – is a superb example of journalism as process not product.
The internet allowed NPR to break its format and schedule and meet an urgent need to explain to the public what the hell is going on. What else is journalism for? The podcast – and two shows that played on This American Life – have been hailed by many, including me, as the best explanatory journalism on the crisis. The story is too big to handle with a three-minute story here and another there. It requires a process of reporting, explaining, following up.
Planet Money’s narrative unfolds with the news itself. They don’t try to tie up all the loose ends by the end of each podcast. Instead, they tell us that they’ll follow this angle or that and answer open questions. The other day, for example, an interviewee told Davidson that the bailout money could be used by banks to pay dividends or buy back stock. He said just what I was thinking: Our blood was boiling. He didn’t have the rest of that story then. Instead, he told us that he’d be sure to follow the angle.
The audience also joins in, asking questions, which the Planet Money team patiently and intelligently answers. This, too, forms the podcast.
It’s a process.