On investigative economic reporting and This American Life

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of home decorating. Bit by bit, I’ve been working through the podcast archive of WBEZ’s This American Life. Where the archive really shines is in its economic analysis pieces.

Two years ago as Lehman Brothers collapsed and AIG fell, This American Life began to try to explain what was happening and who the principals were. While the reasons of the global financial crisis differ from Ireland’s, the forces at work are the same – greed, short-term banking decisions, loose regulation and too much money chasing too few resources.

The thing why I really love TAL’s approach to reporting is that it doesn’t patronise the listener. How does a bank work? TAL explains. What is leverage? TAL explains. Don’t know what a collaterised debt obligation is? TAL explains. Working off a base of first principles, TAL opens doors for listeners as well as interviewing people that worked at those institutions about how they worked and about the morality of those decisions.

Ireland needs a TAL approach to investigative reporting now more than ever before. Imagine trying to get a handle on who knew what and when?

I doubt that we will ever see the like of the TAL approach to economic reportage. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The bankers that caused the damage are still working. We haven’t seen anyone go to jail for the damage they caused to the Irish economy. Excluding the top brass that have graced our Sundays, many of the bankers are shadowy bedfellows to developers and we will never know them.
  2. The media isn’t interested in educating the public and it’s too hard to marry this with trying to source bankers willing to speak on the record. Investigating the area is expensive in time and manpower. Even more so when trying to liven up copy to a jaded listenership.

Investigative podcasters, check out

The first three episodes listed are *highly* recommended!

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