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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4:21pm

Fri February 21, 2014
Sports

Four Years Later And One Round Earlier, The Game Ends The Same

Originally published on Fri February 21, 2014 7:53 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

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4:49pm

Wed February 19, 2014
Sports

Roundup At The Rink And On The Bobsled Track

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 8:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, a roundup of some of the big stories out of Winter Olympics in Sochi today. A Norwegian athlete became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. And there was a bruising loss for host country Russia. Its men's hockey team lost to Finland and is out of the Olympic tournament. Russian fans like Alexander Ustinov(ph) were devastated.

ALEXANDER USTINOV: You know, it's so bad because we lose. We lose. I can't believe it. It's so bad.

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10:03am

Tue February 18, 2014
The Edge

In Bobsled, 'You Learn As You Go'

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 10:51 am

Elana Meyers, during a training session in Sochi last week, is a driver on the U.S. team. She started out as a brakeman.
Tobias Hase EPA/Landov

If there's one sport in the Winter Olympics you can do with your eyes closed, it's bobsled.

The bobsled brakeman does about five seconds of hard work, jumps in the sled and can then relax a bit. During the women's bobsled competition tonight in Sochi, we should keep our eyes open, because it's fun to watch.

The women call themselves brakemen — not brake women or brake person — in a nod to the fact that bobsled was an all-male sport until 2002.

Even now, the women only race two-man — not four-man — bobsled.

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5:03am

Tue February 18, 2014
Sports

U.S. Women's Bobsled Team Features 2 Summer Olympians

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 11:03 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There is one sport in the Winter Olympics you can do with your eyes closed. To be precise, you have to do a few seconds of work, after which you can close your eyes and hope for a gold. I am referring to the brakeman in bobsled. That's the athlete who pushes the sled. Tonight, the woman's two-person bobsled starts in Sochi.

NPR's Robert Smith introduces us to the team.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Let's get this out of the way. The women call themselves brakemen. Not brake women or brake person.

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4:43pm

Mon February 17, 2014
Sports

Bronze In Bobsled For A Team Of Steves

Originally published on Mon February 17, 2014 7:59 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Team USA has been struggling to win gold. There were some hope today. Two pairs of American athletes went into their events as the best in the world. And we're going to hear now how they did, starting with two-men bobsled. America driver Steve Holcomb and his brakeman Steve Langton sounded like this on the bobsled course.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

CORNISH: The Steves were going 82.7 miles per hour. The Russian sled, piloted by Alexander Zubkov, sounded like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

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5:17am

Mon February 17, 2014
Sports

U.S. Looks To Bobsledder Steve Holcomb To Add To Medal Count

Originally published on Mon February 17, 2014 7:57 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's check in on the Winter Olympics now. It's been a rough time so far for team USA. They have only won four gold medals in ski and snowboard slope style and in women's snowboard half pipe. The U.S. has struggled in the more traditional sports of the Winter Olympics. That could, though, change today. The U.S. has the best bobsledder in the world, Steve Holcomb. And he races the two-man today.

NPR's Robert Smith joins us from the Sanki Sliding track in the mountains above Sochi. Robert, good morning.

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9:54am

Sat February 15, 2014
Sports

Emotions Run High For Olympic U.S.-Russia Hockey Game

Originally published on Sat February 15, 2014 1:13 pm

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The big event today at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi is the U.S.A.-Russia men's hockey game. It is already underway in the Bolshoi Ice Dome. The U.S.A. or Russia can lose and still make the finals but the emotional stakes of these two old rivals meeting today in Russia is huge. NPR's Robert Smith is at the game. He sent us a list of how he prepared for the big event.

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5:07pm

Thu February 13, 2014
Sports

Between U.S. And Russian Hockey, A Different Kind Of Cold War

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 7:58 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

For a lot of Russians, the true start of the Olympics was today. Team Russia took the ice in men's hockey. At the very same time, Team USA also had their very first game. We sent a reporter to each game to see how the two rivals stack up against each other and they sent his report.

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7:29am

Thu February 13, 2014
Sports

In Front Of A Home Crowd, Russia Has Hockey History On Its Mind

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 3:07 pm

Russia forward Alexander Ovechkin steps out onto the ice Thursday before a match against Slovenia. The Russians won 5-2. On Saturday, they'll meet Team USA.
Mark Humphrey AP

There is a weird contradiction in Olympic hockey: On one hand, these professional players from the NHL arrive in a small town like movie stars.

They show up a week late, trailed by TV cameras and Russians begging for autographs.

And then they have to go back to basics. Early Thursday, members of Team USA were on the ice, doing the kind of simple drills that you'd see in a peewee hockey league.

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5:33pm

Tue February 11, 2014
Sports

Shaun White Misses The Medal Stand As 'I-Pod' Gets The Gold

Originally published on Thu February 20, 2014 2:30 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where American snowboarder Shaun White attempted a three-peat today. He was trying to be the first three-time gold medal winner in the half-pipe competition, actually the first American man to win three consecutive golds in any Winter Olympic event. And NPR's Robert Smith watched the action today and joins us now from outside the half-pipe venue. Robert, how did things turn out for Shaun White?

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7:40pm

Mon February 10, 2014
The Edge

The Norwegian Athlete Who's One Medal Away From History

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 3:55 pm

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway practices in Sochi on Monday.
Harry How Getty Images

On Monday, Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen came a ski-length away from winning a 13th Olympic medal and becoming the most decorated athlete ever at the Winter Games.

The biathlon pursuit Olympic event — cross-country skiing with rifle shooting — is a pretty devious race. The fastest man goes first, and then everyone else in the race tries to catch him before the finish line. And in Monday's competition, Bjoerndalen went first.

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4:50pm

Fri February 7, 2014
Sports

Glory And Glitches At Sochi Opening Ceremonies

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 9:04 pm

The 2014 Winter Olympics officially opened Friday with a ceremony celebrating Russian culture and introducing Olympic athletes from around the world. NPR's Robert Smith was at the ceremony in Sochi and joins us to recount the pomp and pitfalls on display.

4:58pm

Thu February 6, 2014
Sports

Trains May Be Slow In Sochi, But The Snowboarders Are Flying High

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 7:55 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Enough talk about whether or not Russia is ready to host the Olympics, it's time. The competitions have begun. Snowboarders and figure skaters took to the snow and ice today, even though the Opening Ceremony doesn't happen until tomorrow.

NPR's Robert Smith traveled with Russian fans to the first event to see if years of planning have paid off.

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7:28pm

Mon January 27, 2014
The Edge

X Games Show The Olympics What The Kids Want

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 1:17 pm

Nick Goepper competed in the ski slopestyle qualification for the European Winter X Games last March.
Jean-Pierre Clatot AFP/Getty Images

Nick Goepper is headed off to the Olympics in a couple of days, but he's not taking it easy: He spent the weekend hurtling through the air on ESPN at the X Games.

The sport is slopestyle. If you've watched any extreme skiing on television, you'll know it well: Skiers hit rails and walls and massive jumps; they seem to spend more time in the air than on the snow.

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6:26pm

Tue January 21, 2014
Sports

Aerial Skiing Is A Game Of Skill — And Strategy

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 8:08 pm

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

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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3:25am

Thu January 16, 2014
Sports

For A Better Bobsled, Team USA Turns To Race Cars

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 3:07 pm

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

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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3:43am

Mon December 23, 2013
Planet Money

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

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 12:01 pm

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

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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3:34am

Fri June 7, 2013
Planet Money

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

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 3:05 pm

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

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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3:18am

Fri May 24, 2013
Planet Money

Can This Man Bring Silicon Valley To Yangon?

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 9:29 am

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

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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3:12am

Fri May 10, 2013
Planet Money

Why (Almost) No One In Myanmar Wanted My Money

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 7:50 pm

Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

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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3:07am

Fri March 29, 2013
Planet Money

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

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 11:14 am

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

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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3:45am

Fri February 22, 2013
Planet Money

At A Trade Show, Power Tools Fit For The Amish

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 9:59 pm

Robert Smith / NPR

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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2:30pm

Fri February 15, 2013
Planet Money

Should The U.S. Import More Doctors?

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 4:52 pm

iStockphoto.com

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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11:43am

Mon February 4, 2013
Planet Money

A Union Vote For Chinese Workers Who Assemble iPhones

Originally published on Mon February 4, 2013 12:12 pm

Workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, in 2010.
AFP AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese workers who assemble iPhones, iPads and tons of other electronic devices may soon be able to elect their own union representatives, the FT reports.

Labor unions technically do exist in Chinese factories, but they're typically controlled by management and the government. So a union run by democratic vote of the workers would be a huge shift.

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9:43pm

Fri December 14, 2012
Shootings In Newtown, Conn.

Shooter's Family Connections Begin To Emerge

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 10:27 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour with the tragedy in Connecticut. This morning, around nine o'clock, a young man walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and began shooting. Federal law enforcement officials now tell NPR the gunman was 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Newtown.

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3:28am

Thu December 13, 2012
Planet Money

Will A $1.9 Billion Settlement Change Banks' Behavior?

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 11:55 am

Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images

If a kid does something bad and you want to discipline him — give him a timeout, say, or take away a toy — there are some basic principles that seem to work.

The punishment needs to happen quickly after the bad behavior. And it needs to be significant enough to get noticed. Those rules aren't just for kids; they need to hold true for any type of punishment to be effective.

But if you're a federal regulator punishing a bank, it can be tough to be swift enough and to levee a penalty that's severe enough to make a difference.

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7:44pm

Tue November 6, 2012
Election 2012

Some New York City Polling Sites Run On Generators

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 8:08 pm

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has complicated voting in the New York City area. Robert Siegel talks with Robert Smith.

5:15pm

Thu November 1, 2012
Around the Nation

New Yorkers Struggle With Limited Transit Options

Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:42 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

New Yorkers were ready to get back to work today. Unfortunately, the region's transportation system was not. Commuters to Manhattan overwhelmed the barely operating bus and train system. From Brooklyn, NPR's Robert Smith reports on the resulting long lines and frustration.

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12:50pm

Fri October 19, 2012
Planet Money

Watch Our Fake Presidential Candidate's First Real Ad

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 7:12 pm

The fake candidate.
Lam Vo NPR

The story so far: A panel of economists from across the political spectrum came up with a presidential platform they could all support. It was a platform that would doom any real candidate. So we created a fake one.

We tested out one of our key ideas — eliminating the mortgage-interest tax deduction — on a focus group. They hated it.

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2:53am

Fri October 19, 2012
Planet Money

The Candidate Is Fake; The Consultants Are Real

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 12:31 pm

One consultant's vision for our political ad: "I see a horse."
iStockphoto.com

When our series began yesterday, we brought together five economists from across the political spectrum and had them create a platform for their dream presidential candidate. It's a platform — Get rid of a tax deduction for homeowners!

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