Saturday, May 15, 2021

Business reporters must up their game

There is no doubt that journalists entering the profession today in Botswana are better educated and prepared than their counterparts of yester year. The question is, in terms of output, and with a greater focus on economics and business reporting, do we see any increase in both quantity and quality? Put differently, are our journalists today giving us “well researched and informed” articles compared to their yesteryears counterparts? The answer could be yes and no at the same time.

The truth of the matter is, we have over the years seen ambitious young people coming out of private universities as well as the University of Botswana who are willing and able to do research and investigation. The unfortunate part is that most of them have a rudimentary understanding of economics, accounting, statistics and the capital markets. This lack of knowledge and appreciation of basics in these subjects renders them unprepared as business journalists. 

But as we move into the New Year, budding business journalists and those who have been struggling with the beat should find it necessary to take an inventory of what they need to learn. We argue this while bearing in mind that our objective, (as business or financial journalists), is not to become accountants, fund managers or financial analysts, but to understand enough of their world so that we are able to effectively question, challenge and make follow ups on any developing story.

Therefore, going into the New Year (2016), we should be able to know how accounting and reporting tricks are usually used to embellish corporate rate earnings, hide management mistakes and defraud regulators such as Bank of Botswana, NBFIRA and the Competition Authority.

We should be able to understand how capital markets operate, precisely know how companies are formed and financed, the difference between different kinds of corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorship and how a privately held company like BTCL, Sprint Couriers or National Development Bank is able to make itself public. We should not be heard asking companies like De Beers how much they would sell “the exceptional” diamond whereas it was not discovered by them. (Just as an example.)

As we assume our “watchdog” role in 2016 we got to turnaround the current situation where much of our coverage has been less about empowering our people to make better financial decisions and more about assisting significant corporate players maintain a regular visibility in our various media. We have let political reporters take the lead in reporting on the government’s Economic Stimulus Programme, a scenario that leaves our people clueless on what really will happen to them in the future should such a scheme become a flop like many other government schemes that have dismally failed.

My fellow scribes and reporters should be reminded of the fact that appetite for business and economic news in our country has increased enormously over the past decade or two. Partly because of the deterioration of our country’s economic performance —-relative to what both ordinary man on the streets and business people had expected. Also because some part of our population is now well educated and need to make investment decisions based on reports or stories that we write about industry leaders.

Just like we noted a few lines above, in 2015 economic problems occupied a larger and larger part of our national agenda. We had no water, no electricity, less jobs and slow wage growth…etc. All these needed prolific business journalists who could break down the jargon to an ordinary newspaper reader or radio listener in the village of Kasane up north or a farmer in the tiny village of Radisele along A1 road. With all that said, one also ought to state that this gloomy picture of business reporting in our country should not be understood against the background of poor economic and financial reporting skills only. There are other factors which entail unstable media entities with no guaranteed means of economic survival, poor working conditions and irresistible lure of better paying jobs in the corporate communications. Recent initiatives by the Editors Forum where they partnered with entities such as Barclays Bank, CEDA, First National Bank Botswana and Barclays Bank Botswana to offer short introductory courses in economics reporting are welcome but a long term training strategy is critical for substantive progress to be made.

The #Bottomline though is that in the New Year, business journalists should not only inform on the markets trend but also play their role as watchdogs. 

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