Elegy for @oleta of @planetmoney

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.

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8 Responses to Elegy for @oleta of @planetmoney

  1. Rob Paterson says:

    I share your feelings – I have never met Laura – but we became pals back in the day at BPP when we seemed to be the only 2 people awake at that time. We would chat at 5am with our first coffees like an old married couple – inside joke!

    She understands more about how to attract a community than any one I know in media. She brought a warmth and a truth to PM that I think has helped make the show what it is. If the Boys were the Volts, she provided the Watts – the emotional power.

    I think that she also got what I think is the Story – the story that is directly about the American People – her material consistently told the story as it is being lived on mainstreet – she has inspired many people to offer up their stories to her and she has noticed stories out in the comments, the Tweets and the Facebook page.

    Laura’s greatest asset? She listens! Rare in journalism

    I hope that she finds the role that I think that she deserves.

    At BPP and at PM she was the “Handmaiden” She deserves a leading role now – she has earned it.

  2. Anesly says:

    When commercial paper froze, I finally started downloading the Planet Money podcast. I’d heard about it–I liked TAL’s “Giant Pool of Money,” and people had been recommending Planet Money to me, but being a contrary sort I hadn’t gotten around to listening yet.

    And then, the economy exploded. No one knew what was going on, and whatever it was, _it_ was going on at such a hectic pace. My nerves, like yours, were raw. I was antsy and had trouble sleeping, my mind racing to digest the overload of new information.

    Planet Money was my lifeboat too. I used to download the podcast and take it to bed, feeling a bit like a kid sneaking books and radio into bed past bedtime, listen to it, and finally sleep. Even the soundbites at the start of podcast and the music came to have a soothing effect on me. Lady Gaga was my econ-comfort music.

    Here’s the thing, though. Planet Money has superb reporting and insight into the nitty gritty of economics, and yes, it’s a team effort, but Laura did something special: she grounded the sometimes rarefied high-level concept discussion; she brought her sense of humor; she actively built a community around the podcast. We really did feel that it was _ours_. Her efforts on the blog and on Twitter brought us together, and there really is no better evidence for her success than your blog post, and the fact that we all feel we may be losing the core of the show.

    I hope that wherever she goes next, her special talent is recognized. And I’m sure she’ll do wonderful.

  3. I felt like Laura represented me. She was smart without being glib, informative without being condescending. And most of all, she was fresh in the very best sense. She and Planet Money were a part of my day. I’m taking her leaving as a personal loss.

  4. Maple Fan says:

    Awwww. Now this lovely tribute makes me want to cry. Followed Laura from BPP to Planet Money. She was very kind and patient when she interviewed me right after I lost my job on December 30, 2008. Planet Money was my lifeline, too. I did a followup interview when I got, as Laura put it, “the last job left in Ohio” in February of this year. I could feel her happiness for me over the phone. No matter what she does next, some group or project or program is going to be really lucky to have her.

  5. Brian Love says:

    Thanks for putting into words much of what I was thinking, although I don’t think as eloquently as you write. It really helped. So have the comments of others here. I can think of nothing that would make this situation better except, as Rob says, Laura gets the role she has proven herself deserving of.

  6. Jack says:

    Agree with all of the above, LC always made me feel like a special part of the community (and drew me into the Twitter crowd). More often than not, Planet Money’s segments seemed like an informal conversation with close friends. I’ll miss Laura and hope that PM continues successfully without her.

    As for @oleta, I’ll be impatiently awaiting a tweet announcing her new wherabouts.


  7. Diana says:

    All the Planet Money people are great. I’m not a financial person, but I like how they explain things to me in a way that respects my intellect. Laura will definitely be missed.

  8. Rapetzel says:

    Well said saalon. I share your sentiments and admiration for Laura’s smarts and community building. Thank you Laura- and I look forward to sharing in your next adventure as well.

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