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Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Abel

All rights reserved.


Published in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC,
New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

B R OA DWAY B O O K S and its logo, B \ D \ W \ Y, are trademarks of


Penguin Random House LLC.

Background drawing assistance by Matt Madden

This work received the support of the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée
et de l’image, in the form of an author residency at the Masion des auteurs
(Angoulême, France).

Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data is available upon request.

ISBN 978-0-385-34843-0
eBook ISBN 978-0-385-34844-7

Printed in the United States of America

Cover illustration by Jessica Abel

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition

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No one gets into radio to Where does that
become rich and famous. passion come from?

Every producer
I talked to for this
book is in this game
for one reason: they
are passionate about
their stories.

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It comes from the fact that when these They’ve learned
producers and reporters go out looking for to notice what‘s
stories, they find them by paying careful exciting to them,
attention to what’s interesting to them. what they tell their
friends about, what
they have questions
about. It’s a real skill,
it takes practice.

And by following what’s Ira talks about having “good


interesting, by building their My message is: taste” and “knowing your
understanding of whatever Amuse yourself. taste,” and I think this is
that is and digging deeper, they what he means by that.
arrive at the most surprising
and engaging stories you’ve ever
heard­—and, crucially, that
they’ve ever heard, either.

Story ideas are not sprinkled


on us like fairy dust. Finding a
story idea is a job within itself.

Ira giving a commencement address at


the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. On our show, the
best stories come
Before anything is from someone just
going to get inside a following some itch.
reader or a viewer or
a listener and stick in
their gut, it’s got to
stick in your gut first.

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The most popular, commented- This producer, Alex Blumberg, I had been wondering about
on, awarded piece of journalism before the housing market this question of debt for a while.
we ever did was an episode called collapsed, he just got really It seemed like so many people
“The Giant Pool of Money.” interested in the banking industry. were borrowing so much money.

Alex Blumberg

I remember, even in 2005, Someone explained to him that banks were doing
wondering about it. I became this thing that banks had not done in the history of
totally obsessed with this housing banking, which is that they would give out loans to
finance website called Calculated people who were not qualified to get loans, and the banks
Risk. It was a place where skeptics wouldn’t even check what the people reported they earned.
about the housing bubble gathered.

The episode starts out


with someone named
Clarence Nathan,
who at the time
was making about
$45,000 from three
part-time jobs, and
he got a bank loan for
$540,000 for a house.

“It’s almost like you pass a I mean, I know guys that are
guy in the street and say…” Would you have loaned criminals who wouldn’t lend
you the money?” me that money and they break
Lend me Well, what your kneecaps, so…ha ha ha!
$540,000? do you do?

Hey, I got
a job.

Okay.
I wouldn’t have loaned me the
money, and nobody that I know
would have loaned me the money.

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I didn’t understand it, and And I wasn’t sure if I was
But you know, the
I knew Adam Davidson succumbing to alarmist internet
models could be wrong.
was already an economics rhetoric, or whether there was
correspondent at NPR. So I would this false confidence of the
ask him. And he would tell me… economic mainstream.

But, it was
clear there was
a problem in
subprime at the
very least, and
The people I talk to say we should try
there’s not a problem as long Ha ha
to do a story
as the models are right. ha.
about that.

So in January of 2008, I’d had people explain to me We had this


we really started working what a CDO was, how housing whole chain
in earnest on it. And loans were being packaged, and that started
by that point we had pieced these crazier and crazier and with a
together what was going on. crazier Wall Street inventions. mortgage
broker…

and went
to a Wall
Street
trader.

And it turns out that we came out with “The Giant That was the key thing. Everybody was aware
Pool of Money” just as the crisis was reaching that something was going crazy in the housing
the national consciousness. So our timing, totally market, but they didn’t know exactly what, and
accidentally, turned out to be a little bit perfect. we came along, and gave everybody a narrative.

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Not only do
Which is totally gratifying, the best stories
because that’s why I did the come out of this
story in the first place. I kind of self-
didn’t understand what was awareness and
going on. The amount of money avid pursuit
that was being lent, and to of the sur-
whom, it just seemed crazy. prising, but the
best shows do,
as well.

And that was why I


wanted to do the story,
to explain it to myself.

Origin story …and then allowed


after origin story him or herself to
of these great radio pursue that idea with
shows comes down curiosity, avidity, and
to this: Someone, or professional discipline
a couple people, got until that new way
obsessed with some caught our ears, and
idea for a new way we can’t stop listening.
of thinking about
stories…

Eventually, years later,


Alex got obsessed with his interest led to one
the housing market of of the most successful
all things, and then he This American Life
didn’t say, “That’s not episodes ever, and then,
interesting” and shut it off. soon after, to a brand-
new show, a partnership
Instead, he between TAL* and NPR,
went deeper. Alex and Adam Davidson,
called Planet Money.

He did this without


a thought, initially, of Now, that
what it might mean. is what I call
a good idea.

*A common shorthand for This American Life. 51

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