The best thing about working for a paper like The Financial Times is that everyone takes your calls.
From my years of experience in Latin America, that small but select group comprises The New York Times, The Economist and the Financial Times. I am sure the Wall Street Journal is in there too but I’ve never had to call up and say I worked for the Journal so I can’t say for sure.
I have worked for the others, though, and people always take your calls, especially in government. It’s no coincidence that those are mostly financial papers. Governments care about the economy and they care about the markets.
The Mexican government was notorious for releasing bad news just after the markets had closed. That gave people the whole night to digest the bad news. The shock when trading started the morning after was not as great.
Here in Brazil, the government is not just bad at answering press requests, it is slow. Everything has to be written down in an email – proof that the internet makes our lives harder as well as easier. I think they believe that stalling will grind you down and make you forget you asked those hard questions.
More often than not, I’ll just write the piece anyway without a comment from the official sources. It certainly makes my life easier!
Often I am looking for basic information that I’ve got elsewhere and want to confirm. I always try to check with the official sources.
It’s stunning how few government ministries can provide that basic service of telling me what is true and what is untrue about their own areas. Press officers don’t know their own departments. All they know is how to direct you to their web site or how to give instructions on sending an official request via email.
Most infuriating off all is the lack of responsibility. No one wants to speak for fear of being held accountable later.
This is the scenario that is already facing me as I prepare a piece for Time magazine about Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s chief of staff and his candidate to succeed him. I called up her office this morning seeking an interview with someone who knows her and can talk about her.
I was asked to send an email to her assistant, which I duly did. I doubt anyone will answer it, much less give me any meaningful insights into how she is, how she works, or how she thinks.
But such is life in the second tier. It was nice spending a couple of weeks dealing with people in the know. Speaking of which, here’s the link to my fascinating FT piece on Brazil’s public debt.