Setting the benchmark for economic podcasts
Bloomberg unveiled a new podcast last week called Bloomberg Benchmark, which is a jargon-free dive into the stories that drive the global economy.
Benchmark is a news platform that lives within Bloomberg’s economics coverage that features fast, data-driven and chart-rich analysis. The stories focus on the biggest topics in the global economy and central banking — whether that’s a closer look at a surprising number buried on the 18th page of a government report, or an explainer on the significance of a difficult policy decision.
The reporters and editors aim to make these insights interesting, relevant and understandable not only to our readers in finance but also to a broader, non-expert audience.
The hosts of the podcast are Tori Stilwell, Dan Moss, and Aki Ito. After launching Friday afternoon, the podcast catapulted up the iTunes podcast ranks to now about No. 50. It is No. 5 for all business, and No. 1 for business news.
Stilwell is a U.S. economics reporter for Bloomberg based in the Washington bureau. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate who previously interned with The Wall Street Journal.
Moss has helmed Bloomberg News’s global economic coverage since 2007, first as managing editor and then, since February 2010, as executive editor. He joined Bloomberg News in 1994 in Sydney, covering company news and the stock market.
Ito is an economics reporter with Bloomberg News in San Francisco who writes about Federal Reserve policy and broader trends in the economy — particularly about how the Internet and other technologies are changing the job market and the study of economics.
Ito, Stilwell and Moss spoke with Talking Biz News on Tuesday about the new podcast. What follows is an edited transcript.
Moss: It was a natural extension of the work that we had done on Benchmark, which began as a conversation, graphically enhanced, friendly on the eye way of presenting economic data. It was presented in a way that people might find surprising and provocative. When we began to consider a podcast, we thought it was a natural to take it from a written word to a spoken word.
Stilwell: We are trying to reach a broad audience with the text product and the podcast, so it seemed natural to extend the brand. We wanted to make that accessible to as many people as possible, It’s a great way to have a multi-platform approach.
Moss: While podcasts have had a lot of publicity recently, very few of them focus on economics and business. The other thing that we were determined to do is not to conflate it. We wanted to do the precise opposite of that. Every day, an economy is a living, breathing thing. Every day, in every corner of the world, there is an economic story to be told.
What does a podcast do that you can’t do in another format?
Stilwell: You can do a couple of things. It’s really nice to be able to talk over ideas and get the inner workings, how we approach stories. When we have guests, the podcast shows how we interview them. Plus how we incorporate what they say in how we interpret things. To listen to that in real time is interesting to readers.
Moss: I think it’s about the spontaneity. We’re having a conversation about an economic subject. There’s nothing quite like hearing.
Stilwell: It’s sometimes much more convenient to listen to them than read them, like when you’re at a gym or in a car. You can feel like you’re multitasking and learning stuff.
How often will the podcast run, and how did you decide on that time frame?
Stilwell: It’s once a week. Right now, the schedule is to record on Wednesdays and publish on Thursday. There is some flexibility in that. We don’t want to inundate people with shows. We want to give them enough to come back next week and listen again.
Moss: If the traction is there, we might consider more than once a week. But we’re only two shows in.
The first podcast had a guest. Will all of them have guests, and how will you pick them?
Stilwell: They won’t all have a guest. Some will just be the hosts talking. It’s about sort of how much you can say in a podcast without overwhelming the listener. If you have three people and a guest, it’s almost like the guest is being assaulted with questions. So we’re trying to strike the right balance.
The guests will sometimes be our fellow reporters who are experts in subject matters we’re talking about. Sometimes they will be experts from think tanks, economists, so they’ll run the gamut there but always people who have smart things to say.
Ito: It depends on how much expertise we have on the subject. The episode we released today was a bonus episode on China, but none of us are reporters on China. So it was good to have Ken Leiberthal (from the Brookings Institution) join us. and I think that really made our discussion more authoritative. We’re experimenting with different formats and it’s been fun trying to find the right balance here.
Moss: For issues like China or Brazil, we can also tap into this tremendous pool of economic team writers that we have around the world. The experience has taught us that there’s an appetite for this. And we’ve been given the opportunity to make of this what we want and what we will. We’ve essentially been allowed to do our own thing and talk about economics as it’s a conversation not a stilted statistical model.
Will each podcast be geared to something that happened that week?
Ito: Some of the episodes will be about something that just happened. There will be others that will be more evergreen subjects that we could talk about at anytime. We’ll try both to see what our listeners like the most.
Who do you see as the audience for this podcast?
Stilwell: While we were thinking about this podcast, we thought about people like my boyfriend and people in other industries, young professionals, who know that there is a meltdown in Greece, but they don’t know the details and may not be able to talk about it with any sort of authority.
Moss: Alternately, there are people who are really into the micro picture, those who want to take a step back and get a broader perspective that they might not have considered about something like industrial production in China.
Ito: From the beginning, we’ve had a strong opinion that economics really matters and is interesting, but it’s hard to understand. We’re trying to break through that.
What’s the typical time length going to be?
Stilwell: Our goal is to have it at 20 minutes or less.
What’s the biggest hurdle in making these things fun and entertaining, other than Tori’s laugh and Dan’s accent?
Stilwell: You have to really take people through your thought process. That is one thing that I am trying to do. We talk about this all the time on a daily basis, so while connections may have been made in our mind, sometimes you have to walk through the mechanisms. Why does inflation need to go up? Things like that. Making sure that the connections are made while being fun.
Dan, what’s the big picture here — how does this help sell Bloomberg’s economics coverage?
Moss: As is often said of an economy generally, there’s the need to keep innovating and to keep things fresh. And I’d like to think that here on the economic teams we’ve got an environment where people see the opportunities to do this sort of thing. The power of the Bloomberg brand doesn’t have to be constricted to any one audience. If anyone ought to be able to tell the economic story of the 21st century it ought to be Bloomberg in all its forms.
What have you learned after the first podcast?
Moss: Our guest was able to put productivity issues that we discussed into a some sort of long-term, historical perspective. We’re constantly inundated with stories about productivity. But our guest was able to say that’s fine and that’s great, but he told us where we stood. He likened Twitter and those technology innovations as snacks to the full meal of the auto industry.
Stilwell: On a more technical level, 20 minutes goes by real fast. So we want to make sure we cover what we want to talk about and squeeze as much as possible into that limited amount of time.