Budding budget analysts
Tips for tender young economics journalists. That's what was on the menu at a lunch today when Reg Rumney passed on advice to ten JMS students studying on scholarships from the SA Reserve Bank and Reuters.
Rumney is a veteran of reporting the budget, and is now he is bringing his expertise to education and training in his new capacity as director of the new Centre for Economics Journalism in Africa, at Rhodes journalism.
His pointers were:
* you have to find a new angle - what's different about this budget;
* check for things that are more symbolic than substantive - i.e. aimed at addressing business confidence - such as the R60bn loan to Eskom;
* note what's missing in the budget: in this case, no mention of black economic empowerment;
* look for whether there a sub-text as to whether Trevor Manuel sees himself continuing as Finance Minister;
* build your expertise, such as in tax regimes or land reform, and you can steal a march on other journalists who have to wait till an expert has read the budget and can only then help you make sense of it and what's worth noting.
Robert Brand, Pearson Chair of Economics Journalism at JMS, explained that specialist reporters get locked up at 5am to a certain time, with the budget, without a cellphone, and though you could start filing copy later in the day - the publication would be embargoed till the speech was being delivered.
Remember that the budget is actually politics, not economics, said Brand. He commended Business Day for pointing out that Manuel had cocked a snook at the ANC's Polokwane congress through arguing in effect that the 2008 budget decisions were based on business as usual.