Robert Smith

Robert Smith is a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money where he reports on how the global economy is affecting our lives.

If that sounds a little dry, then you've never heard Planet Money. The team specializes in making economic reporting funny, engaging and understandable. Planet Money has been known to set economic indicators to music, use superheroes to explain central banks, and even buy a toxic asset just to figure it out.

Smith admits that he has no special background in finance or math, just a curiosity about how money works. That kind of curiosity has driven Smith for his 20 years in radio.

Before joining Planet Money, Smith was the New York correspondent for NPR. He was responsible for covering all the mayhem and beauty that makes it the greatest city on Earth. Smith reported on the rebuilding of Ground Zero, the stunning landing of US Air flight 1549 in the Hudson River and the dysfunctional world of New York politics. He specialized in features about the overlooked joys of urban living: puddles, billboards, ice cream trucks, street musicians, drunks and obsessives.

When New York was strangely quiet, Smith pitched in covering the big national stories. He traveled with presidential campaigns, tracked the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and reported from the BP oil spill.

Before his New York City gig, Smith worked for public radio stations in Seattle (KUOW), Salt Lake City (KUER) and Portland (KBOO). He's been an editor, a host, a news director and just about any other job you can think of in broadcasting. Smith also lectures on the dark arts of radio at universities and conferences. He trains fellow reporters how to sneak humor and action into even the dullest stories on tight deadlines.

Smith started in broadcasting playing music at KPCW in his hometown of Park City, Utah. Although the low-power radio station at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, likes to claim him as its own.

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Sports
5:26 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

Aerial Skiing Is A Game Of Skill — And Strategy

Emily Cook trains in aerials for the Visa Freestyle International in Park City, Utah, last February.
Matthew Stockman Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 7:08 pm

During the Winter Olympics, seeing an aerial skier perform is unforgettable.

It's like gymnastics in the air. And, like gymnasts, aerial skiers get points for doing a harder routine and for sticking the landing. But there's a crucial difference between the two sports.

In the final few rounds of aerials, you can't use the same trick twice. Sometimes, after seeing what the athletes before you have done, you have to change which moves you'll use in the very last seconds.

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Sports
2:25 am
Thu January 16, 2014

For A Better Bobsled, Team USA Turns To Race Cars

U.S. bobsledders Nick Cunningham and Abraham Morlu compete in a BMW-designed sled at the World Cup in January in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The U.S. team paired up with a BMW race car designer several years ago to boost its chances at the 2014 Winter Games.
Alex Livesey Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 2:07 pm

When you meet bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, he doesn't talk about his Olympic gold medal — the one he won with the four-man team at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Instead, he talks about the one that got away.

Four years ago, his two-man bobsled started the Olympic run with a great push. "I was actually winning the race in Vancouver," Holcomb says. But then he "made a driving mistake, and we went from first place to sixth place in two turns."

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Planet Money
2:43 am
Mon December 23, 2013

A Locked Door, A Secret Meeting And The Birth Of The Fed

J.P. Morgan: Not a pussycat.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 11:01 am

In 1907, the U.S. economy was in the grip of a financial crisis. Unemployment was up. The stock market was down.

People started panicking. They were lining up overnight to pull their money out of healthy banks. This can be deadly for an economy: Healthy banks have to shut down, businesses can't get credit, they lay people off, and the economy gets worse.

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World
6:52 am
Fri December 13, 2013

In A City With Terrible Traffic, A Gridlock Economy Emerges

For a price, this Jakarta mother will get into your car so you can drive in the carpool lane.
Robert Smith NPR

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 11:08 am

Jakarta, Indonesia, has some of the worst traffic on the planet. For some local entrepreneurs, all those people stuck in their cars are potential customers.

In a middle of one Jakarta traffic jam, a guy pushes his chicken cart through the cars, clanging his pots. Men walk down the center lane selling nuts, crackers as big as your head and other treats. They're all trying to make eye contact with the drivers.

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Business
4:13 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Planet Money Spins A Yarn And Makes A 'Perfect' T-Shirt

Inside a yarn factory in Indonesia.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 1:10 pm

NPR's Planet Money team has manufactured a T-shirt. All this week we're following its journey around the globe. Today, the T-shirt makes a detour in the Pacific Ocean. Cotton from America gets shipped to a factory in Indonesia where it gets transformed into yarn.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Planet Money
4:57 pm
Wed August 28, 2013

Photos: The Planet Money T-Shirt Goes To Indonesia

Robert Smith NPR

This week, Jess Jiang and Robert Smith visited the factory in Indonesia where U.S. cotton was spun into yarn for the Planet Money T-shirt. (They also visited several other factories.) Here are some of the pictures Robert posted to our T-Shirt Tumblr.

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Crime In The City
2:01 am
Thu August 1, 2013

Bodies On The Boardwalk: Murder Stirs A Sleepy Jersey Shore

The Jersey shore's iconic Star Jet roller coaster was inundated after Superstorm Sandy.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 2, 2013 5:01 pm

When writer Chris Grabenstein plots his mysteries, the murders happen in the corny nooks of New Jersey's Jersey shore. After all, there's something delightfully cheesy about a beach town.

"I guess I'm a cheesy guy. I like this kind of stuff," Grabenstein says. "Ever since I was a kid I loved tourist towns."

The author points out shop names as we walk along his stretch of the shore. There's the Sunglass Menagerie, an ice cream shop called Do Me A Flavor, Shore Good Donuts and How You Brewin' coffee. I'll spare you the rest — Long Beach Island has 18 miles of this stuff.

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Planet Money
3:14 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

What Actually Happens At The End Of 'Trading Places'?

Feeling good.
Paramount The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 9:41 am

It's been 30 years since Trading Places came out. And, to be honest, I never really understood what happened at the end of that movie. Sure, Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) get rich, and the Duke brothers lose all their money. But what actually happens? How does it work?

I recently talked to Tom Peronis, a guy who has spent years trading OJ options. He walked me through every step of Winthorpe and Valentine's plan.

1. Give The Duke Brothers Bad Information

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Planet Money
2:34 am
Fri June 7, 2013

How To Sell Coke To People Who Have Never Had A Sip

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 2:05 pm

For years, there were only three countries in the world that didn't officially sell Coca-Cola: Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Now, after 60 years, Coke is back in Myanmar. Sanctions were lifted last year on the country. Just this week, Coca-Cola opened its new bottling plant outside of Yangon. Now all the company has to do is figure out a way to sell all that Coke to people who may not remember what it tastes like.

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Planet Money
5:13 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

In A Single ATM, The Story Of A Nation's Economy

A bank in Yangon recently opened the first ATM in Myanmar that's connected to the rest of the world.
Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 3:35 pm

Nan Htwe Nye works at an elementary school in Yangon, Myanmar. She started trying to use ATM machines a few months ago, and things haven't been going so well.

The machines are often broken, she says. "But," she adds, "we hope it will better in the future." This is, more or less, the story of ATMs — and of banking in general — in Myanmar.

She's visiting the headquarters of CB Bank, at the first ATM in the country that was connected to banks all around the world.

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Planet Money
2:18 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Can This Man Bring Silicon Valley To Yangon?

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 8:29 am

Like a proud father, Nay Aung opens up his MacBook Air to show me the Myanmar travel website he has built. But we wait 30 seconds for the site to load, and nothing happens.

"Today is a particularly bad day for Internet," he says. This is life in Myanmar today: Even an Internet entrepreneur can't always get online.

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Planet Money
2:12 am
Fri May 10, 2013

Why (Almost) No One In Myanmar Wanted My Money

Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 6:50 pm

When you arrive in Myanmar, you can see how eager the people are to do business. At the airport in Yangon, new signs in English welcome tourists. A guy in a booth offers to rent me a local cellphone — and he's glad to take U.S. dollars. But when I pull out my money, he shakes his head.

"I'm sorry," he says.

He points to the crease mark in the middle of the $20 bill. No creases allowed.

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Planet Money
2:07 am
Fri March 29, 2013

The Trick To Selling Fancy Wine From New Jersey: Don't Say It's From New Jersey

A sign outside Lou Caracciolo's winery, Amalthea Cellars
Courtesy Amalthea Cellars

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 10:14 am

Halfway between the New Jersey Turnpike and the Atlantic City casinos is a little slice of France: Amalthea Cellars. There's an old farmhouse, and a field full of grapevines.

Lou Caracciolo, who founded Amalthea, is walking through the field. "Here's something I put in the ground in 1976," he says. "You have to have a feel for it, and after 30 years I have a pretty good feel for it."

Caracciolo calls himself a hopeless romantic. And, really, you have to be a romantic to try to make a $33 bottle of cabernet sauvignon blend in New Jersey.

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Planet Money
2:45 am
Fri February 22, 2013

At A Trade Show, Power Tools Fit For The Amish

Robert Smith / NPR

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 8:59 pm

The Buckeye Tool Expo in Dalton, Ohio, is held in a massive hall filled with bearded men in black hats and women in white bonnets. A few horses and buggies are tied up outside.

The Amish have chosen to forgo many of the delights of the modern world, but they still need to drill, sand and cut wood. This trade expo shows off all the loopholes that let the Amish get their hands on power tools.

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Planet Money
1:30 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

Should The U.S. Import More Doctors?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 3:52 pm

People around the world want the same thing from their doctors. First, do no harm. Second, take a look at this weird bump and tell me if I should get worried.

The job is basically the same in many countries around the world. But the pay is wildly different. The median salary for U.S. doctors is about $250,000 a year. In Western Europe, it's less than half that. In developing countries, the salaries are even lower.

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