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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Not too long ago, a New York taxi medallion was worth more than a million dollars. Gene Friedman managed to buy more than 1,000. But that was before Uber, and now people like Friedman face bankruptcy.

Listen to the full story by Planet Money.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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?



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


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Eighteen-year-old American Mikaela Shiffrin is the favorite in Friday's women's slalom at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Three other Americans are also in the field of 88.

On the slopes, athletes are cheered on by fans, family and friends ringing cowbells. Does it help? Is it too much?



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.

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.



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.



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.


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




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.



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.

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.

It's hard to tell on TV, but in person, the Olympics are loud.

Every competition has its own DJ, and for the snowboarding, Russia has brought in a little help from the USA: Mike Nakagawa, better known as DJ Naka G.

The men's snowboarding team is hitting the halfpipe Tuesday in Sochi, and it's Naka G's job to pick the song for each rider.

"We're really providing the soundtrack for a story," he says. "We're making it dramatic. We're making it exciting. We're making it just pure fun."

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.



And at last, we can say this morning, let the games begin. The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics will be held tomorrow in Sochi, Russia. But there were just too many sports to fit in, so a few got an early start, including a new Olympic event: slopestyle snowboarding. It debuted on a clear, beautiful day on the mountain of Rosa Khutor.

NPR's Robert Smith has been taking in the scene, and joins us now. Good morning. This is pretty exciting.

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.

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.

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."

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.

Jakarta, Indonesia, has some of the worst traffic on the planet. For some local entrepreneurs, all those people stuck in their cars are potential customers.

In a middle of one Jakarta traffic jam, a guy pushes his chicken cart through the cars, clanging his pots. Men walk down the center lane selling nuts, crackers as big as your head and other treats. They're all trying to make eye contact with the drivers.

NPR's Planet Money team has manufactured a T-shirt. All this week we're following its journey around the globe. Today, the T-shirt makes a detour in the Pacific Ocean. Cotton from America gets shipped to a factory in Indonesia where it gets transformed into yarn.

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This week, Jess Jiang and Robert Smith visited the factory in Indonesia where U.S. cotton was spun into yarn for the Planet Money T-shirt. (They also visited several other factories.) Here are some of the pictures Robert posted to our T-Shirt Tumblr.

When writer Chris Grabenstein plots his mysteries, the murders happen in the corny nooks of New Jersey's Jersey shore. After all, there's something delightfully cheesy about a beach town.

"I guess I'm a cheesy guy. I like this kind of stuff," Grabenstein says. "Ever since I was a kid I loved tourist towns."

The author points out shop names as we walk along his stretch of the shore. There's the Sunglass Menagerie, an ice cream shop called Do Me A Flavor, Shore Good Donuts and How You Brewin' coffee. I'll spare you the rest — Long Beach Island has 18 miles of this stuff.

It's been 30 years since Trading Places came out. And, to be honest, I never really understood what happened at the end of that movie. Sure, Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) get rich, and the Duke brothers lose all their money. But what actually happens? How does it work?

I recently talked to Tom Peronis, a guy who has spent years trading OJ options. He walked me through every step of Winthorpe and Valentine's plan.

1. Give The Duke Brothers Bad Information

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.

Nan Htwe Nye works at an elementary school in Yangon, Myanmar. She started trying to use ATM machines a few months ago, and things haven't been going so well.

The machines are often broken, she says. "But," she adds, "we hope it will better in the future." This is, more or less, the story of ATMs — and of banking in general — in Myanmar.

She's visiting the headquarters of CB Bank, at the first ATM in the country that was connected to banks all around the world.