From its creation in response to the 2008 financial crisis to Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt, NPR's original economics podcast has long been an innovator in audio and visual journalism.
Planet Money has been on TikTok since May and many viewers are surprised by how well its videos about inflation, corporate bankruptcy, and supply and demand fit the app's aesthetic.
We talked with senior director of visuals Keith Jenkins and Alex Goldmark, senior supervising producer for Planet Money, about the video team's work and why what Planet Money is doing is such a good fit for TikTok.
How did this all come together?
Alex Goldmark: While looking into some business of music stories, we realized the growing cultural influence that was coming from the TikTok community so we began paying attention to it and thinking about how we might adapt our journalism to the platform. It seemed like it would only work if we had someone on staff who really understood the platform better than I did, for sure. Then in late April, two things happened around the same time. First thing: one of the members of the video team did a draft of a video for our Planet Money Shorts series which had a very TikTok style. It was clear it would fit the platform. And second thing: TikTok reached out to invite us to apply for a fund they were creating to encourage more media brands and creators to post on the platform with educational content. We got accepted and turned that draft video into our first TikTok and, a portion of our productions costs are offset through TikTok's Creative Learning Fund.
What's the editorial process behind each video?
Keith Jenkins: Each of these videos are our independent editorial creation. On the video side, the Planet Money Shorts team brainstorms each day with other members of the video squad about what might work as a new video or what might work from the 'Shorts' archive. Once they've decided they start on scripting and production, check in with the Planet Money editors, and quickly move ahead with several videos at once in order to stay slightly ahead of our daily posting goal.
Alex: On the Planet Money side, we have an editor or the reporter who did the original reporting review each script before shooting starts and then again for approval once we have a video ready to post. It often ends up in quick discussions on how to distill an economic idea like sunk costs into just a few seconds to make sure, even if it's a bit weird, it stays accurate.
Alex: The Planet Money Shorts video series has been a successful way to port the narrative, explanatory journalism of the podcast and radio stories to a place where a new and different audience can experience it. We want to bring our reporting to new audiences and we want to meet them where they are.
Keith: Planet Money is on YouTube as well in the form of the 'Shorts' but we felt the sensibility (quirky, lip synching edu-tainment) was also a natural fit for TikTok.
What is Planet Money's goal on the platform? What do you hope each video does for whoever is watching it?
Alex: Every video has to explain something about economics or the systems of how money moves around the world and impacts people's lives. We also want to entertain the audience enough to stick around through some otherwise pretty rough and complex topics like taxation or wealth disparities.
Keith: We also look at views and comments as success indicators. Are people watching and are they engaging? If they are talking about it, then we are hopefully spreading knowledge. We've gotten about 150K followers and over 1.7M likes, all just about three months from scratch.
Do you have any favorite PM TikToks?
Keith: I'm a fan of a couple, Racial Economic Progress is simple yet so informative. I also love the TikTok about the percentage of the population needed for a revolution. A smart rewind of an Indicator from Planet Money episode.
Alex: Sunk Cost Fallacy loop is a particular favorite because it fits the scrolling loops of TikTok so well, and also it helps remind me how to make better decisions every time I watch it, again, and again and again...