business good explanations jargon radio This American Life

This American Life vs. Financial Jibber Jabber

This American Life recently broadcast the third installment in their fantastic series of shows explaining our current financial mess. All three episodes are available for free online:

  1. The Giant Pool of Money
  2. Another Frightening Show About the Economy
  3. Bad Bank

This article from the American Journalism Review notes that the series impressed even government big wigs. Montana Senator Max Baucus and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner apparently sang its praises during a congressional hearing last week. Baucus would like government officals to follow T.A.L.’s example and explain themselves better. Hear hear!

The article also quotes Alex Blumberg, the producer who spearheaded the series. This insight sure rings true to me:

Blumberg thinks part of the formula’s success is not getting caught up in the jargon. “We have outsider status. We are not a business program, and we were never a business program,” Blumberg says, admitting that before he started the project he was as ignorant as the next person about the intricacies of high finance.

“The one thing I do have expertise in is figuring out how to tell a story. All these storytelling tricks we have learned over the years we have brought to bear in the same way,” Blumberg says.

When you’re breaking down a difficult subject for a general audience, a non-expert storyteller is usually the best explainer for the job. If you’ve just learned something yourself, you’re better able to relate to the audience. You know what they know and don’t know, and where the most confusing hurdles are.

Dave found the story via @jayrosen_nyu, who is wondering why the established press isn’t capturing the market for good news explainers. Excellent question.

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