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Why a viral radio show owned the story of the financial crisis

Friday, September 18th, 2009

From the most important essay about the news business I’ve read this year:

“Among the assumptions I wanted to test … was the idea that news consumers really are looking for context rather than merely the latest news. After all, during years of working in online newsrooms, I’d seen plenty of deep, contextual news packages ignored by our site users in favor of weather updates and crime reports.

“The financial crisis provided an early test of this assumption. At the time, news about the crisis was ubiquitous. All at once, every news organization was unearthing news about a different aspect of the meltdown—the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the role of the Community Reinvestment Act, the status of the bailout plan wending its way through Congress. Amidst all this news, would people choose context?

“The answer was yes. The breakthrough news item of the year wasn’t an investigation that yielded some hot new scoop, it was a piece of on-the-record explanatory reporting by ‘This American Life’ and National Public Radio that went wildly viral. ‘The Giant Pool of Money’ went on to become the most downloaded episode in the history of ‘This American Life,’ garnering the award trifecta of a duPont, Peabody and Polk for its producers. Many listeners said they’d been tuning out all those crisis-related headlines until they heard the episode. For them, ‘The Giant Pool of Money’ was like a decoder ring for this news story. And once you heard it, you wanted more.”

It's a manifesto

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

It’s been the formula embraced by every half-crazy, screw-the-system dreamer in history, from Henry Thoreau to Jerry Maguire:

Do less, better.

And for journalists, it’s the way of the future. It’s exactly what consumers are demanding.

How cool is that?