The subject of economics is considered to be dry, complicated and theoretical. In Bolivia, Colombian journalist Alberto Martinez teaches aspiring journalists to tell exciting stories about business topics.
For one week, Alberto Martínez, journalist and lecturer at the Universidad del Norte in Colombia, shared his knowledge with 16 journalists in Bolivia - and invited them to rethink economic issues.
In Bolivia, the Fundación para el Periodismo (FPP), supported by DW Akademie and Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), offers a dual training program for journalists. The hands-on training, part of the GIZ project ProPeriodismo II, consists of 40 percent theory and 60 percent everyday life as a journalist in a media company. An important part of the program is the seminar on business journalism. Alberto Martinez, journalist and lecturer at the Universidad del Norte in Colombia, spent a week conveying his knowledge to 16 journalists in Bolivia – and he persuaded them to rethink business journalism.
You convey the topic of business to the next generation of journalists. What skills does a good business journalist need?
"First of all, you have to know the basics of economics, which we also teach here in class. And one should not be afraid of the topic. This means understanding how the economy structures our lives. We get up in the morning, take a bath, get dressed, have breakfast and go to work. Every decision we have made today also has an economic aspect to it. If I see economics as an integral part of my own decisions and daily actions, then I inevitably have to learn more about it, and I also lose my fear of the subject."
The aim of your seminar is to make business journalism "sexy". How do you do that?
"For me, the term 'sexy' means attractive, interesting, entertaining, intelligent, sensitive, and at the same time, promotes dialogue. We want students to write stories that incorporate these features so that more readers can read their texts, stories and reports. We want to engage our audiences through exciting stories so that they no longer think that business is a bland topic that does not touch on their lives."
Is it true that journalists often cannot handle numbers?
"There are many theories about that. The author John Allen Paulos says that journalists are innumerate, meaning that by nature, they cannot work well with numbers. I believe that many people have problems with numbers. Engineers and mathematicians work with them every day, but most people get by without them in their daily lives.
What we are trying to do in our seminar is to give the numbers a new meaning. We show students that you can tell good stories with them. At the same time, we want to make it clear that economics cannot only be expressed in figures."
Was it difficult for the participants of the seminar to combine business topics with stories from everyday life?
"Not at all, they did a great job. Today, a student showed me her story: She wanted to report about regular money transfers between Bolivians abroad and their families. She found out that Bolivian citizens abroad send the largest amount of money into the country. That's an incredibly exciting story.
Another participant was at the market and wrote about the situation of vegetable farmers. Climate change and speculation on the stock market are among the many factors that affect the harvest and thus, revenues. It is important that the stories have an exciting introduction and draw in the reader immediately."
What do you think about the situation of business journalism in the world and in Bolivia?
"I believe that people in general have understood the importance of the economy. Social situations and political decisions do not exist without an economic element. And I believe that journalists and citizens get to know each other through the topic of business.
Here's the situation: If I am afraid of economic decisions, then the decisions are made by others. Let's say there are 300 entrepreneurs in the world who own 80 percent of the world's assets. Are we talking to these 300 entrepreneurs or to the roughly seven billion people on earth who have to deal with these matters and live with the consequences? That is the challenge. In Bolivia, we are beginning to extricate economic journalism from trade journalism. Instead, we need to prepare the information for the majority of people by using simple language so it is easy to understand."
How do you assess the progress of dual journalism training and the business journalism program?
"Bolivia is the only country in Latin America that offers dual training for journalists. This education model answers a key question that we journalists have always asked ourselves: Why is there a separation of media work and academia? By answering this question, we have made a significant step forward. Journalists can now apply their theoretical knowledge directly at work. This makes this type of training particularly valuable."