Laura, you’ll be missed.
I’ve been on the internet a long time. I started messing around on a network service called Delphi in 1995. My first job two years later was as tech support for a local Internet Service Provider. I met my wife and two of my best friends on an IRC server run by SciFi channel, and met another of my closest friends writing (I hesitate to admit, and beg you to remember I was 18 at the time) fanfiction. I’ve seen communities come and go, some brushing past some kind of perfection before flaming out.
That IRC server that Scifi ran – first called Icarus, then Events – was, for most of my life, the best community I ever found. You don’t get friends and love out of an IRC community unless it’s something special. Until last year, I was convinced I’d never find anything close again. That moment of perfect beauty came and went. So it goes.
It took the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression to change that. Let it never be said that the subprime mortgage industry was all bad.
I came to Planet Money like many people did: through This American Life’s fantastic “Giant Pool of Money.” I came because the only way to hold back the horror of those early days of the crisis was to stay informed. Information made my mood darker, but it also held the panic at bay. My wife can attest to how raw my nerves were; I don’t know exactly what had me so spooked, but I was very, very scared. Planet Money was my life preserver.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: To find another community as special as the one I found back on Icarus. In the past year I’ve made real friends. It’s been a while since that’s happened online. Not just net friends, either. They’ve come to mean enough to me that me and Erin flew to New Orleans just to have the chance to meet some of them. That thing I thought was just a life preserver turned out to be a boat, and I wasn’t alone in it.
Though Planet Money is a great show run by great people, there is one person who deserves much of the credit for the community the show built: Laura Conaway. Which is why I am absolutely crushed to learn that, as of today, she’s moving on to other things.
Like I said, this is not my first time to the dance. I’ve seen great work done, work that built a deserved readership but that never built a community. Blogs written by keen but distant minds, films shot by brilliant but reclusive souls and music performed from afar. And I’ve seen great work tainted by disdain for its audience. Great work married to a personal accessibility is rare, and should be treasured. For the past year, Laura Conaway of Planet Money worked to make its blog not only fantastically informative, but inclusive of all of its readers.
I was lucky enough to work with Laura during her time on Planet Money, first on a debate with another reader, and later on a development project that was some of the most fun coding I’ve ever done. Most of the fun of it was getting to work with Laura herself, who is such a rare mix of smart and personable that I wish everyone could have had that chance.
Back when Laura was still on the podcast itself, she used to say that this was our recession, they were just reporting it. It’s a sentiment I hope does not leave the show with her. If it does, the show will be less for it, even if the reporting stays as strong. It’s hard to do great work. It’s harder to build a community around it that’s more than an aggregation of listeners. Laura succeeded, and she did so in a very, very short time.
I say none of this to sell short the hard work of Adam Davidson, Alex Blumberg, Caitlin Kennney, Chana Jaffe-Walt or David Kestembaum, nor any of the great interns who served at Planet Money over the past year. I wish only to point out the rare gift Laura gave to their show, a gift I hope survives beyond her tenure.
As for Laura, I can only hope that her destination is bigger, brighter and better than her point of departure. She deserves it.
Raise a glass, folks. It’s the end of the tour.
P.S. Did you know that an elegy is a type of poem? I thought it was just a style of music. The things you learn in the midst of sad news.