Robert Smith

Robert Smith is NPR's New York Correspondent. Before moving into his current position, Smith was NPR's education reporter and covered public schools and universities on the West Coast. He reported on a variety of issues facing the education system, including the challenges of over-crowding, tight budgets, teacher retention, and new technology.

Smith's reports have been heard on NPR since 1994, first as a freelance reporter based in the Northwest, then during a short stint for NPR in Los Angeles. Specializing in the offbeat, Smith has taken his microphone into some strange worlds. He traveled into the backcountry with Gearheads to talk about their obsession with camping technology; he snuck into a all-night rave in the California desert; he has dressed up as Santa Claus for an undercover look at the wild night of Santarchy; and he has trained for the oft-mocked Olympic sport of curling. He is particularly fascinated by clowns and turkeys.

Born in London, Ontario, Canada, Smith emigrated to the United States with his family. He grew up in the ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, where he started in radio by hosting a music show while in high school. Smith graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1989, and began reporting for community radio station KBOO. He followed with reporting jobs at KUER in Salt Lake City and KUOW in Seattle, where he was also news director.

Smith now lives in New York with his wife, Robbyn. When he's not reporting, Smith enjoys barbecuing and model rocketry.



Fri July 1, 2011
Planet Money

Breakfast At Libertarian Summer Camp

nealaus Flickr

Last weekend, a group of libertarians and anarchists gathered in the woods of northern New Hampshire for the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival, aka PorcFest.

I went up for breakfast.

Lucky for me, George Mandrik has brought along 150 lbs. of bacon, which he's selling out of a tent to finance his trip to the festival. He does this thing where he weaves 10 pieces of bacon into what he calls "a little blanket," and cooks the whole thing up.

Read more


Mon June 6, 2011
Planet Money

The Failure Tour Of New York

Originally published on Mon May 7, 2012 12:36 pm

Mary Altaffer AP

"I'm sure New York does failure better than anyone else because it does success better than anywhere else," Tim Harford says.

Harford, an economist and author, isn't just being kind. He argues in his new book, "Adapt," that success always starts with failure.

And so we've set out across Manhattan to look for some of those big ideas that didn't work out.

Out first stop is the main library. In the lobby is a classic example of how even things we consider successful were flops at the time: a 15th-century Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg himself.

Read more


Fri June 3, 2011

Romney Tries Again To Be GOP Presidential Nominee

Originally published on Wed August 24, 2011 11:39 am



This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Four years is a long time in politics. Just ask Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor first announced a run for president in 2007. Yesterday, Romney had a chance at a do-over, formally declaring, again, that he will seek the Republican nomination. Everyone knew it was coming. But it's a chance for Romney to redefine what he stands for, as NPR's Robert Smith reports.

Read more


Mon May 16, 2011
Planet Money

The History Of The Debt Ceiling

The U.S. government hit the debt ceiling today. This makes life very complicated for the Treasury Department, which now needs to shuffle money around to pay the bills.

But originally, as it turns out, the debt ceiling was supposed to make things easier. A hundred years ago, it seemed so straightforward.

When Congress wanted to spend, it spent. And if it needed to borrow, it approved the sale of a bunch of Treasury bonds. Congress would consider each new bond individually.

Read more


Mon May 16, 2011
The Spark

Ron Paul: Why The Young Flock To An Old Idealist

NPR has been profiling some of the Republicans who are considering a presidential run in 2012, to find out what first sparked their interest in politics. Read more of those profiles.

Go to any Ron Paul event and it strikes you immediately. What's up with all the young people?

Read more


Fri May 13, 2011
Planet Money

The Finance Minister Who Robbed A Bank

When the Libyan rebels went to look for someone to run their war economy, they went to an unlikely source: An economics teacher at the University of Washington.

Ali Tarhouni fled Libya 40 years ago after speaking out against Moammar Gadhafi. "I was given a choice to leave the country or go to jail," he says. His name wound up on a Gadhafi hit list in the 1980s.

He went back after the civil war broke out earlier this year. Now he's living in Benghazi, working as the finance minister for the rebels. His first job: Raise money to pay for the revolution.

Read more


Mon May 2, 2011
NPR Story

New Yorkers Gather At Ground Zero

Hundreds of people gathered in New York City at the site of the former World Trade Center. The site's twin towers fell nearly 10 years ago on Sept. 11.


Sun May 1, 2011
The Spark

Jon Huntsman: A Political Path, Paved With Detours

There are at least a dozen Republicans considering a run for the White House in 2012. As part of a series, NPR is profiling some of them to find out what first sparked their interest in politics.

In 1971, Jon Huntsman Jr. visited the White House. He was 11 years old, and his father was a businessman and adviser to Richard Nixon. The young Huntsman, the story goes, met Henry Kissinger that day and helped carry his luggage to the car.

Read more


Fri April 29, 2011
Planet Money

Studies: Rich Don't Flee High-Tax States

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was presented with a new state tax on the wealthy, he vetoed it. He said:

You're not going to fix this tax situation by continuing to load more and more taxes onto people who have both the abiltiy to leave the state and the inclination to leave the state if they feel as if they are being treated unfairly.

It's not just Christie. Democratic governors in New York and Maryland recently dropped extra taxes on the wealthy from their budgets, citing the same concerns.

Read more


Fri April 15, 2011
Planet Money

When The U.S. Paid Off The Entire National Debt (And Why It Didn't Last)

On Jan. 8, 1835, all the big political names in Washington gathered to celebrate what President Andrew Jackson had just accomplished. A senator rose to make the big announcement: "Gentlemen ... the national debt ... is PAID."

That was the one time in U.S. history when the country was debt free. It lasted exactly one year.

By 1837, the country would be in panic and headed into a massive depression. We'll get to that, but first let's figure out how Andrew Jackson did the impossible.

Read more


Fri April 8, 2011
Planet Money

Groupon's Secret: Everybody Has Their Price

Originally published on Fri April 8, 2011 9:59 pm


How much would you pay for a burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion rings, cheddar and bacon?

At Corner Burger in Brooklyn, Hilda Hampar charges $9.25. At that price, tables in her restaurant often sit empty.

So she made a deal with Groupon. It sent out an offer to its thousands of subscribers: $18 dollars' worth of Corner Burger food for nine bucks.

"The next day [after] the coupon came out, this place was full," she says. "People were waiting outside."

Good news, except for one daunting piece of math.

Read more


Thu March 24, 2011

On Broadway, A 'Mormon' Swipe At ... Everything

The most offensive show on Broadway was born out a special kind of love.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been obsessed with Mormons since long before anyone killed Kenny. A Mormon preacher shows up in their college film Cannibal: The Musical. Their early feature Orgazmo centers on a naive Mormon missionary who gets roped into the porn industry.

"Mormonism has sort of been the little thing that's fascinated us the most," says Parker.

Read more