Robert Smith, the award-winning host of NPR’s Planet Money, will become the director of the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism starting July 1. He will also join Columbia Journalism School’s faculty.
As host and correspondent for Planet Money, Smith’s engaging and accessible storytelling on how the global economy touches people’s everyday lives helped to make it one of the most popular podcasts at NPR. He won a Peabody Award in 2016 for an investigation into how Wells Fargo was punishing whistleblowers.
Smith, who has described the method at Planet Money of distilling economic trends into compelling human stories as "finding the little story inside the big idea," has designed training seminars for reporters around the country and has taught journalism at Columbia and Princeton University. Along the way, he has continued to immerse himself in the subject of business and economics as a mid-career student. Smith holds an MBA from Columbia University (2020) and he was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in 2018-2019.
"The Knight-Bagehot fellowship was transformative to me as a reporter," Smith said. "Finally, I could understand the business models and complicated math behind the stories that I covered on Planet Money. It gave me the confidence to tell bigger, smarter stories about the world of business and ask just the right questions. I am thrilled to help the program grow and thrive as its Director. And to pass on to a new generation of reporters the tools to master the wild world of business journalism."
Prior to Planet Money, Smith was a national and New York City correspondent for NPR, covering a variety of breaking news stories, from Hurricane Katrina to the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing of US Airways Flight 1549.
Smith’s career in radio started at KPCW in his hometown of Park City, Utah. He continued his passion for radio at the campus radio station at Reed College in Portland, Ore., before moving on to work at public radio stations in Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle.
"On behalf of the board, let me say that I am thrilled that Robert Smith will now be leading the program," said Gillian Tett, chair of the Knight-Bagehot Advisory Board and Chair of the Editorial Board of the Financial Times, US. "He not only experienced the Knight-Bagehot fellowship himself, but subsequently taught students, and has now spent many years championing the cause of financial and business journalism. That makes him ideally placed to promote the ideals that have driven the Knight-Bagehot fellows and supporters from its inception."
Tett also expressed gratitude to Smith’s predecessor Ann Grimes, who agreed to serve as interim director of the Knight-Bagehot Program for the 2020-2021 academic year. An award-winning veteran business journalist, Grimes previously served as Associate Director of the Brown Institute for Media innovation, a bi-coastal Institute at Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. She teaches at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.
"I would like to say a big thank you to Ann for successfully leading the program during this pandemic year and wish her the very best on her return to the West Coast," Tett said.
The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism offers qualified journalists the opportunity to enhance their understanding and knowledge of business, economics, finance and technology, as well as gain a strong understanding of the business of journalism itself, in a yearlong, full-time program administered by the Journalism School. The Fellowship runs during Columbia’s academic year from mid-August through May, and accepts up to 10 Fellows each year. Each Fellow receives free tuition, plus a stipend to offset living expenses in New York City and healthcare.
The Fellowship is named for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, which established an endowment for the program, and Walter Bagehot, the 19th-century editor of The Economist. The Knight Foundation has been the principal sponsor of the Fellowship since 1987. The program also depends on grants from a number of other charitable foundations, corporations and publishing organizations for a significant portion of its annual budget. The sponsors have no role in the selection of fellows or the curriculum, which are entirely managed by the Director of the Program and the Journalism School.