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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Planet Money
5:22 am
Wed May 21, 2014

These Days A Penny Doesn't Buy Very Much

Originally published on Wed May 21, 2014 8:06 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's go from billions to pennies. The penny occupies a strange spot on the economic landscape: It's worth almost nothing, but not quite. Tomorrow and today, our Planet Money team will be reporting on the penny, starting with this report from Robert Smith and Jacob Goldstein, who set out on the streets of Manhattan with a simple question: Can you buy anything for a penny?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: We started with the guy who runs the fruit stand outside our office.

What if we wanted to buy one cherry?

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Planet Money
7:03 am
Wed April 30, 2014

Varying Auto Safety Standards Interfere With Trade Negotiations

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 12:43 pm

The U.S. and Europe have different car safety standards. Some of them are small while others are more dramatic. All car makers agree that the different standards are a pain. So why the difference?

Sports
4:05 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

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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Sports
5:03 am
Tue February 18, 2014

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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Sports
5:17 am
Mon February 17, 2014

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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Sports
5:09 am
Thu February 13, 2014

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

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

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

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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The Edge
7:19 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

The Norwegian Athlete Who's One Medal Away From History

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

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

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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The Edge
7:28 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

X Games Show The Olympics What The Kids Want

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

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

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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Sports
5:40 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 8:08 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
3:25 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 3:07 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
3:34 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 3:05 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
3:18 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Can This Man Bring Silicon Valley To Yangon?

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 9:29 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
3:12 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 7:50 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
3:07 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 11:14 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
3:46 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 9:59 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
3:18 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

Should The U.S. Import More Doctors?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 4:52 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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Around the Nation
5:17 am
Mon December 17, 2012

Obama Speaks To Newtown's Grieving Families

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 6:22 am

President Obama issued a challenge to the nation on gun violence Sunday night. He was speaking to grieving families of the school shooting in Newtown, Ct. And the president said when it comes to protecting children, the country isn't doing enough.

Shootings In Newtown, Conn.
9:43 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

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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Planet Money
3:28 am
Thu December 13, 2012

Will A $1.9 Billion Settlement Change Banks' Behavior?

Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images

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

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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Election 2012
7:44 pm
Tue November 6, 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.

Election 2012
5:19 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

New York Moves Polling Places Hit By Sandy

Lynn Neary talks with Robert Smith, who was covering Election Day in New York.

Around the Nation
5:15 pm
Thu November 1, 2012

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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Around the Nation
5:06 am
Thu November 1, 2012

In Queens, Hard-Hit Residents Assess The Damage

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 1:04 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

With all of the storm damage from Sandy, people are already beginning to wonder who is going to pay for all of this. Over the coming days, tens of thousands of homeowners will be calling up their insurance companies. They will file billions of dollars in claims. Robert Smith from our Planet Money team takes us to one devastated neighborhood in Queens, New York, where residents are already struggling with how to rebuild.

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Around the Nation
5:21 am
Wed October 31, 2012

For Famously Impatient New Yorkers, Lots Of Waiting

Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 8:52 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Many people along the East Coast got a reminder this week how fleeting and impermanent life can be. In some cases even the ground beneath their feet has disappeared, after Superstorm Sandy.

INSKEEP: The Jersey shore moved in places, and in others chunks of boardwalk floated away. More than 50 people were killed along the East Coast and today around six million homes and businesses remained without power.

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Planet Money
12:36 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

Watch Our Fake Presidential Candidate's First Real Ad

The fake candidate.
Lam Vo NPR

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

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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Planet Money
2:53 am
Fri October 19, 2012

The Candidate Is Fake; The Consultants Are Real

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

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

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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Planet Money
3:32 am
Thu October 18, 2012

A Tax Plan That Economists Love (And Politicians Hate)

The mortgage is going to cost more than you thought.
Paul Sakuma AP

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 12:51 pm

Watching a presidential campaign, it's easy to think that the nation is deeply divided over how to fix the economy. But when you talk to economists, it turns out they agree on an enormous number of issues.

So we brought together five economists from across the political spectrum and had them create their dream presidential candidate. Over the next few days, we'll have a series of stories on our economists' dream candidate. We start this morning with some changes to the tax code.

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Planet Money
6:14 am
Wed October 3, 2012

Why New York Is A Hub In The Global Trinket Trade

Lam Thuy Vo NPR

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 11:07 am

For more on the junk economy, see this slideshow.

There's a neighborhood in New York City that has always been a mystery to us. Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, around 29th street, is the wholesale district. There you can find rows of narrow storefronts packed to the ceiling with trinkets. Racks and racks of fake gold chains. Acres of souvenir lighters and walls of belt buckles. Plastic, plastic, plastic toys.

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Planet Money
2:16 am
Thu September 13, 2012

The Fed's Other Big Power

Give us a sign.
Alex Brandon AP

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 2:06 pm

We think of the power of the Federal Reserve as the power of money. After all, the Fed is the one institution that can create U.S. dollars out of thin air.

But recently, Ben Bernanke has argued that the Fed has another, critical power: the power of words. And when you're the chairman of the Fed, a few words can go a long way.

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Planet Money
2:05 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

How A Pasta Factory Got People To Show Up For Work

Robert Smith NPR

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 10:06 am

Zoe Chace and Robert Smith are reporting from European borders this week. This story is about the unofficial border within one country — the border that divides northern and southern Italy. This is the fourth story in a four-part series.

A decade ago, the Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy, had a big problem with people skipping work. The absentee rate was around 10 percent.

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