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Research findings

May 12, 2010
We did some research, and determined that approximately 1/12th of your friends have birthdays in May. We did some more research, and found that we have a store where you can buy This American Life merchandise. We have no idea if these two findings are related, but thought we'd put them out there.

Things Not Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Apr 30, 2010

This weekend we are re-airing an episode of our radio show that was recorded onstage in front of an audience and beamed out live to 430 movies theaters around the country. We've got some video extras to share with you to supplement your listening experience.

The first is a sad, beautiful cartoon put together by Chris Ware called "Quimby The Mouse" featuring Eugene by Andrew Bird and animation by John Kuramoto.

The second is the musical theatrical debut of filmmaking legend Joss Whedon in which he performs a song about DVD commentaries.

If you still want more we've also got a DVD of the show, which includes a great story by Starlee Kine that we didn't have time to include in the radio broadcast... and of course, a DVD commentary.

Steve Poizner's Wild Ride to Number Five

Apr 29, 2010
Mount Pleasant

In our story about California Gubernatorial Candidate Steve Poizner, we mentioned questions about sales figures for his book Mount Pleasant. Just after its release, Poizner's book shot to No. 5 on the New York Times Best-Seller List.

During his interview, Ira Glass asked Poizner if he or the campaign had bought a bunch of copies of the book to boost sales. At that time, Mr. Poizner confirmed that the campaign did buy copies for supporters, but said he could not provide a specific number. He then told Ira his campaign would make the figure available.

After the interview, a few things happened. Mount Pleasant dramatically dropped to No. 33 on the very next New York Times Best-Seller List. As instructed by Mr. Poizner, we asked the campaign how many copies it purchased, but the campaign declined to provide a number.

Then, Malcolm Maclachlan, a reporter with Capitol Weekly—a paper focused on California politics—sent us a story he wrote after hearing our story about the controversy surrounding Poizner’s book. Looking into sales of Mount Pleasant, he found some very strange things—things that raise more questions about book's brief rise onto the best-seller list.

In his article, which you can read here, Maclachlan reports that a significant number of people seem to have inexplicably received copies of Poizner's book. One college student in San Diego named Matthew Donnellan says he was confused when he received a copy of Mount Pleasant. Donnellan got more confused when he looked to see who paid for it.

…[He] noticed that his name and address were listed not only as the recipient but as the buyer on the invoice. Wanting to make sure his credit card number hadn’t been stolen, he called Amazon. The Amazon representative he reached told him the book was purchased with a gift card — and that card had also been used to buy copies of "Mount Pleasant" for 249 other people, all of whom had first names that began with "M."

"It was like they were going down a mailing list," Donnellan said.

Maclachlan reports that the gift card appears to have been purchased under a fishy name by someone affiliated with a book promotions company called ResultsSource.

The implication is that the company may have disguised a large promotional purchase of the book by using gift cards to buy copies for large numbers of individuals on a mailing list.

This is interesting because leading entities that rank book sales make an effort not to count bulk sales in their rankings. The idea is to prevent promotions companies and authors from buying a bunch of copies and forcing their book onto best-seller lists. Sales that appeared to go to individuals through a retailer like Amazon, however, would be counted. Those are the kinds of sales that determine a book's sales figures and ranking.

Maclachlan reached out the ResultSource and the Poizner campaign about his findings. The Poizner campaign declined to discuss the matter. The promotions company did not return his phone calls.

Four This American Life Contributors Onstage in New York

Apr 28, 2010
The Talent Show

The third monthly variety show featuring many This American Life regulars happens this week. Dave Hill, Marti Noxon, Cliff Doerksen and Elna Baker will perform. Also: Comedian Eugene Mirman is answering audience questions on any topic.

Gershwin Hotel, 7 E. 27th Street in New York. $5. Details.

UPDATE: This month's show is also sold out now.

Magnetar and Goldman Sachs: Connected?

Apr 26, 2010

Wondering what's the connection between our Magnetar story and the news about charges against Goldman Sachs? Pro Publica has an update about it on their site.

And lots of people have been asking if our story on Magnetar helped the New York Times break that story about Goldman Sachs. The answer is we don't know. But there have been lots of great reporters doing great work on this area of wall street for some time. Wall Street Journal reporters Serena Ng and Carrick Mollenkamp wrote about a disastrous Magnetar CDO all the way back in late 2007. And Gretchen Morgenson has been writing about Goldman Sachs in the New York Times for some time as well. Pro Publica's investigation uncovered a wealth of heretofore unreported information, like how many CDO's Magnetar sponsored, how much they were worth, and the fact that it was pushing for riskier assets to go into them. In addition, the breadth and depth of their inquiry fleshed out the larger story of what was happening on Wall Street in the CDO world.

Our showtune featured on Bill Moyers Journal

Apr 19, 2010
This past Friday Bill Moyers played our original broadway song "Bet Against the American Dream" for his guests Simon Johnson and James Kwak, authors of "13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown." It's about 11 minutes into the video. We commissioned the song for a story in our episode Inside Job.

An original broadway song!

Apr 9, 2010

Ira Glass writes:

Watching musicians record the original Broadway song for this week's radio show was like watching a seasoned SWAT team at work. It was all so fast!

All this happened in the late afternoon, in a recording studio right by all the big Broadway theaters, so the performers could go straight from the session to their shows that night: The Addams Family, Chicago, La Cage Aux Folles. One of the singers, Christian Borle, was off to dance on the ceiling as Bert in Mary Poppins.

It's hard to write about all this without gushing in a very uncritical way. It was just really fun to watch these people who are so good at their jobs. The song was written by Robert Lopez, who co-wrote Avenue Q and is writing a new musical with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Our musical director was Stephen Oremus, the musical director of Avenue Q and Wicked. Orchestrations were by Bruce Coughlin, who created the orchestrations for 9 to 5, Grey Gardens, Urinetown, revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Guys and Dolls. Singer John Treacy Eagan was one of the people who took over as Max Bialystock, the lead in The Producers, after Nathan Lane left the show, and for this recording he definitely amped up the Nathan Laniness.

To record, first they did piano, bass, drums and synthesizer (for strings and a timpani roll at the end), plus the two vocalists, John and Christian. I was surprised that they all perform together, the vocalists singing along with the musicians, but everyone told me this is part of the Broadway sound. They only did two or three takes. Even the first take was pretty close. Then the woodwinds, again just a couple takes. Then the horns. Everyone would have played together but the studio was too small for that. John Kilgore had the thing mixed and finished five hours after we walked in the door, though Robert and Stephen had little fixes the next day. (Most interesting: they replaced the small "bell tree" with a bigger one in the final mix. To give it that full Disney magic, they said.)

You can download your own free copy of the song here.

And if your high school wants to do your own production of the song, there's sheet music for you! Let us know about it.

Finally, we have low-fi video footage of the recording session, produced for us by the Planet Money team:

Here are the full credits for the song. Thanks to everyone who made possible Broadway's first ever investigative reporting musical comedy number!

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez

Vocalists: John Treacy Eagan and Christian Borle

Music Supervisor/Producer: Stephen Oremus
Orchestrator: Bruce Coughlin

Piano: Mark Hummel
Keyboard: Randy Cohen
Bass: Dave Phillips
Drums: Sean McDaniel
Sax/Flute: Dave Mann
Sax/Clarinet: Charles Pillow
Sax/Clarinet: Dave Riekenberg
Trumpet: Tony Kadleck
Trumpet: Bud Burridge
Trombone: Randy Andos

Studio Engineer: John Kilgore
Music Contractor: Michael Keller
Copyist: Karl Mansfield

Ira Glass to play poker for charity

Apr 7, 2010
On Saturday April 17th, Ira Glass will play in a Texas Hold 'Em tournament in Brooklyn, NY to support the literacy nonprofit 826 NYC. Ira had fun playing in the tournament last year... but this year he'll face a serious opponent: This American Life contributor/Daily Show correspondent/professional know-it-all John Hodgman.

You can get involved in several ways: you can donate money to Ira Glass's pot; or donate money to John Hodgman's pot; or, if you can get to Brooklyn, NY,... enter the tournament yourself!

All in?

Donations go to support 826 NYC, part of 826 National, a family of eight local branches all dedicated to helping students ages 6-18 learn expository and creative writing.

"Giant Pool of Money" named one of the Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade!

Apr 5, 2010

We're proud to announce that NYU has selected our episode "The Giant Pool of Money" as one of the ten best works of American journalism of the last decade, 2000-2009. In May 2008 staff producer Alex Blumberg and NPR correspondent Adam Davidson reported "Giant Pool," arguably the earliest comprehensive story on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the first of many full hours and individual stories about the economy co-produced by This American Life and NPR News, and the catalyst for the NPR podcast and blog Planet Money.

The ten winners were chosen by the faculty of NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, along with outside judges including Morley Safer, Juan Williams and Greil Marcus. Among the other winners are "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright, who appeared in our episode "Truth Will Out," and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's "Random Family," a passage of which we included in "The Annoying Gap Between Theory and Practice." See the complete list of winners.

Congratulations Alex and Adam!

A very nice review of our iPhone app

Mar 31, 2010

Steve Myers, managing editor of Poynter Online, has some very nice things to say about our iPhone app - including an explanation of how it supplements the podcast and online streaming. Some quotes:

"I bought the app without hesitation because I made a quick calculation: The convenience of being able to stream any episode, without having to sync my iPhone with my computer, was worth a few bucks."

"The podcast never changed how I experienced 'This American Life' stories. The app, however, encourages me to browse the content by reading the blog, browsing the categories of stories, flipping through the "extras" (which includes early stories by Glass and longtime contributor David Sedaris) or watching clips of the TV show that aired on Showtime."

Read the entire column here.