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NPR's Uri Berliner Coming to W&L for Public Talk

Uri Berliner, a deputy national editor at National Public Radio, will give a public talk at Washington and Lee University on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 5 p.m. in Huntley Hall 327. The title of his talk is “Risky Business: Bankers, Governments and Debt Bubbles.”

Unemployment, mortgage crisis, rising debt, looming Euro disaster. The current economic news is depressing, troubling and, to many, completely murky. W&L hopes to shed light on the topic by bringing Berliner to campus.

Berliner oversees NPR’s business and economics coverage. In addition to working on such topics as the financial crisis, the auto industry, energy and unemployment, Berliner also supervises Planet Money, the radio network’s prize-winning multimedia team that covers the global economy.

Berliner’s  talk will touch on credit, excessive borrowing and what Berliner calls the “delusional confidence about the future” that were central factors in both the 2008 financial crisis and today’s sovereign debt crisis in Europe. He plans to incorporate some audio and video segments from Planet Money and other NPR stories. The talk is sponsored by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

Planet Money has won praise for taking complex subjects and making them understandable and even enjoyable. “The Giant Pool of Money,” an exploration of the housing bubble by two Planet Money correspondents, was honored last year by New York University as one of the top ten works of journalism of the past decade.

Berliner, at NPR since 1999, has been a long-time listener.  “I’ve always admired NPR for the intelligence of its coverage and its thoroughness,” he says. “I have memories of waking up to NPR or being in the car and hearing NPR.”

One of the strengths of radio news, he said, is that people respond to the human voice. “Voices help drive stories, help build narrative,” he says. “It pops, it’s accessible, it’s human. More than a written story.”

Berliner says that making complex business concepts lively listening is his toughest job. For example, explaining in 2008 how bad mortgages were connected to the slumping world economy. “It was incredibly hard,” he says. “It had to do with assets called ‘mortgage-backed securities’ – toxic assets. Even when you say them people want to go to sleep.”

The Planet Money team decided to keep its audience awake by telling the story of “Toxie,” a  toxic asset that the team bought to better understand the financial crisis. “Toxie” was full of mortgages gone bad and the team interviewed several people behind the mortgages, including an 81-year-old Florida man with a dog named Muffin.

Before heading the seven-member Planet Money team, Berliner edited NPR’s sports coverage and helped win an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Berliner came to NPR from the San Diego Union-Tribune where he was the paper’s economics correspondent.  In 1998, Berliner was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, where he studied business, history and economics.

Originally from New York City, Berliner received his undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College, and went on to receive his Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev., it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

News Contact:
Julie Cline
News Writer