Friday, 23 July 2010

A week full of finances

It was a long, hard week. I'm still learning my job, which gets me to meet interesting people and a lot of free drinks (coffee, mostly, I'm a financial journalist and getting drunk means I can't think).

I realise over and over that being a journalist is a really good fit for me. Now, that might be obvious, but bear with me for a little. Like many kids, I wanted to be a journalist. Then I read about how difficult it is to get into any of the journalism schools/academies.

Then I met somebody who was an editor at a small regional newspaper. He was an asshole. Cynical and pretty much untalented as a prose writer. Then I met somebody very smart who worked as a journalist for a while and he told me that the way into the job is really writing about the famous rabbit breeder association for years before you get anything interesting. Also, ambulance-chasing and asking bereaved mothers how they felt that their child had been killed/murdered/committed suicide.

Those images were really enough to not want to do it - so I turned my back on the idea and opted for "something proper" instead. Also never assumed I'd ever be good enough to work for the few papers that I respected. Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist.

More than ten years later, I got interviews at the FT (and opted to not pursue it because I'd already received an offer for a job I really wanted - this current one -) and who knows where I'll end up working, but this company is pretty awesome. And I'm a "proper" journalist. Meeting people or "sources" in coffee shops and going to press briefings at places and clubs that other mortals don't get access to. Learning the "real story" behind what's in the papers. Mistrusting almost everything, and trying to work out the truth - because I'm ever-curious and never satisfied. I get paid to learn and write what I know, after I researched it. I get thrown difficult shit - complex problems that, unlike in academia, have a real impact on people. Price of commodities goes up, people starve. Your and my pension money at work.

Right now, this takes a lot of energy. In many ways I've just started. I'm growing into my role, getting ready to take some work off my boss's shoulders, and supporting him, like the "deputy" in my job title suggests.

Every day I'm full of wonder about how shit works. How little those lawyers know. How little the bankers seem to care. How the financial people push their agenda ruthlessly, carelessly, thoughtlessly, believing we from the financial press only swallow and then regurgitate what they tell us. (One banker actually dared to call us "spokespeople for the industry" - while the Financial Times was there, too). The brazen balls of brazenness.

I'm not sure where this journey's going. Right now it's a wild and wonderful ride. It does take a lot of the spare energy I had zipping around previously and slows down the writing somewhat - but it's still manageable. I'm blogging less - the drama unfolds in my head, for the most part, and I know that most of you don't care about financial products. The connection to the "real world" is not all that obvious, and the texts I'm writing are so technical as to be virtually meaningless to outsiders.

But I'm not "selling out", and I'm nobody's "spokesperson". We're pretty damn critical of this 500-750 trillion industry that has the power to topple states and ruin countries and multinationals. And we say so. My boss sees us as something of a watchdog of the industry and he's the first one to call bullshit if they lie through their teeth.

I went from data monkey and "ally" of my previous industry (which now appears so gentle and provincial) to someplace that asks the hard questions. And I'm shocked to see the heads of This and global leader of That evade my question and being unable to understand the implications of what they are saying. What it actually MEANS. What they are saying, parroting after their leaders, who just make assumptions.

For example, one major reform is underway in the industry. They all bitch and moan about how much it's going to cost them (but they are not paying - the customer will, so they moan about how it's bad for their customers - foregone conclusion, that their own bottom line will never suffer). Asked, at the highest level, in a room full of their highest level, how *much* it'll cost, they evade. Asked *again*, they get shifty eyes. Asked yet again if they've done any modelling, if anybody has actually crunched those godsdamned numbers - the best response we get is "I don't know, and I don't know anybody who does/has."

Then why say it's going to be So Expensive?

Liars and Godsdamned liars.

Next time you want a bailout from me, I want my pound of flesh. Make it a kilo.

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