If you need to explain a financial term to someone or how something in finance or economics works, don’t bother. Simply send them to Marketplace.org, where they can watch Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch work his wonders on the Whiteboard.
Hirsch has been Senior Editor of Marketplace for 3 years now and while it keeps him busy, that hasn’t stopped him from having a little fun. An hillwalker and surfer, Hirsch paints a picture of the current economic landscape using nothing but a whiteboard, a marker, and his words. It takes skill and finesse to be able to pull this kind of thing off, so we asked him how he does it.——————-
Vincent Veneziani: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, Paddy. How long have you been working at Marketplace?
Paddy Hirsch: About 3 years.
VV: Can you tell me how the idea for your popular video series “The Whiteboard” came about? Who was behind it?
PH: I can only take partial credit for the Whiteboard. It was born as a presentation tool to explain to Marketplace staff the origins of the crisis and the need to save Bear Stearns. I got the idea from a famous engraving of the disaster that befell the first party that climbed the Matterhorn. A man slipped and fell, and because he was tied to several others in his party, he dragged them to their deaths as well. It seemed like a fitting analogy for what people thought might happen to the banks if the big ones were allowed to fail.
I then used the board to explain a CDO, using another analogy. Pretty simple stuff, and hardly original. The genius was the idea to put it on the Web. And the real credit goes to our camera operator here, Dalasie Michaelis. He videoed the presentation, and put the film on youtube, and it was very popular.
Just a note for colour: At first we had no equipment, just a bog-standard handycam. It was pathetically unsteady, so Dalasie borrowed a colleague’s crutch and strapped the camera to it, creating a monopod that we used for about the first 20 videos! (we have a picture somewhere) We had no proper lights, so we’d grab as many lamps as we could find and turn them all on at once, turning the “studio” into an oven. And we had no sound equipment, which is why the audio on the first shoots was so bad. Fortunately the Corporation for Public Broadcasting responded to a bid with a grant that allowed us to buy a lighting kit, camera and lavaliere mic, so we’re way more high-tech now!
VV: What else do you do as Senior Editor of Marketplace?
PH: I’m really just a basic radio story editor, which means I don’t do anything particularly original – the reporters in LA and New York do all the hard work and I just put a little polish on their stories. I oversee the New York Bureau, and the Senior Business correspondent. This means I edit all stories on the economy and the markets, as well as anything that comes out of NY. I also oversee the Marketplace blog, and I’m the Marketplace contact with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
VV: Where were you employed before Marketplace? I know you worked at S&P, right?
PH: Yes, I worked at Leveraged Commentary and Data, a unit of S&P that provides a kind of newswire and data service covering the leveraged loan market. I was there for seven years. I covered secondary loan trading, the creation of new CLOs, and CDS trading, which was just taking off as I left. I arrived at Marketplace just as the credit crunch was kicking in, so it was good timing, in a way!
VV: What’s your current view on the economy and specifically, the Dow’s triple digit gains today (March 23rd). Is Dow 11,000 next? 12,000? Where does it end?
PH: It’s great to see the stock market back to where it was in early 2006, before things got really bumpy, but I don’t believe we’re at the end of the rocky road. So far, this has been an asset-based recovery that hasn’t benefited the ordinary American anywhere other than in his or her 401K. That is, if they still have a job and a 401K, which plenty don’t. I think a lot of people forget that the stock market is not the economy, and the underlying economy right now doesn’t look so good. Unemployment is officially still around 10% and unofficially, it’s probably closer to 20. With the exception of certain parts of the US, the housing market is still in a slump, drenched in inventory that will take years to sell. Commercial real estate continues to poison regional banks, which continue to go bust in hair-raising numbers: my own bank went under just a few months ago! Finally there’s an enormous overhang of junk loans shadowing the economy, 1.3 trillion dollars in loans that are coming due right now, with a maturity peak around 2013. Banks are frantically delaying the maturities on CRE and junk corporate loans, trying to bridge this gap in the economy. If they’re lucky, the economy will pick up, companies will create jobs, people will go back to work, get paid and start spending again and real estate firms and corporates will be able to pay down or at least refi their loans, and that crisis will be averted, but that’s a big gamble.
VV: What’s the process for coming up with ideas? Is it the current market sentiment or an economic event – what is it?
PH: It’s the news. I look for what are the hot button issues in the markets and ask myself whether listeners really need to know about the specifics. When I come up with an idea, my outstanding cameraman, Dalasie Michaelis, who is also our web producer here, always asks me why it’s relevant to what’s going on now. If I can’t make the case, he won’t turn on the camera!
VV: What’s your favourite part about doing the Whiteboard? It must be the chicks.
PH: Having the conversation beforehand. I’ll be reading Clusterstock or The Business Insider. I’ll know a little and I try to explain it and it’s hard to do that. I try behave a bit like a a 9-year-old, in terms of breaking it down. The best part is that a-ha moment where you know you’ve explained it in a way people can understand.
VV: What’s your favourite Whiteboard?
PH: The Antarctic Expedition one explaining the financial crisis.
VV: Are you an artist at all?
PH: ::laughs:: No I suck at art! I actually went out and bought some books by a guy called Ed Emberley that teach you how to draw and I’ve learned a lot from that. I’m getting better!
VV: Lastly, you said you’re a mountaineer – can you elaborate a bit? I also heard you enjoy surfing!
PH: I’ve been a keen hillwalker since I was a teenager, and I got into proper mountaineering when I was in the Royal Marines. There’s a lot to do in California, but when I arrived here I decided I had to learn to surf instead, and that’s distracted me a bit. I surfed pretty much all of last year, but I wiped out recently and damaged my rotator cuff, so I have a feeling I’ll be spending more time on the hill this year. Hopefully there’ll still be some snow and ice around in the San Gabriels when I get up there in a week or two.
To watch Paddy’s Whiteboard videos, visit his page Marketplace.org