T&T needs better reporters

There are many, many things about Trinbagonian media in general, and our newspapers in particular, that make me want to pull my hair out.

I am continually bemused by our haphazard approach to errors and corrections, for instance.

But it is our apparent lack of reporters who actually understand business, finance, law and (the non bacchanalist aspects of) politics that is most worrying.

These are complex, multi-layered, specialist subjects, and to successfully cover them requires, in no particular order:

– Knowledge of/training in the subject areas, either academic or professional
– A commitment to keeping abreast of changes and developments in the field
– A significant amount of research and reporting, often on a daily basis
– A solid and informed network of sources and contacts

And even more so than in other areas of journalism, those charged with covering these beats must be able to explain often complicated concepts in a manner that can be grasped by non-specialists.

From my obsessive perusal of the major dailies, I’d say all of the above are lacking – or at least not evident.

There are exceptions: Camini Marajh of the Trinidad Express is an excellent business reporter.

Ms Marajh broke the story of RBC’s $2bn offer for RBTT, scooping the international news media who took days to catch up

Her coverage of the deal should be framed and used as a model by editors and reporters in other newsrooms:

In what is likely to be the biggest takeover deal in the Caribbean in recent times, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is getting ready to buy out local banking giant, RBTT, in an acquisition priced at well over US$2 billion.

Sources report that an acquisition agreement is close to sign off by the Peter July-led Board of RBTT Directors.

Perfect. She leads on the significance and size of the deal, and immediately backs it up with reference to her sources.

She continues:

The RBC offer is said to contain a mix of cash and stock in a buyout that sources say has already secured the approval of key shareholders, among them the National Insurance Board (NIB) which has a 22 per cent interest, Guardian Holdings Ltd, a 14 per cent stakeholder and business tycoons Arthur Lok Jack, Richard Azar and Imtiaz Ahamad, who are listed among the largest individual stakeholders.

A crucial bit of information, although she could have explained why this important: if RBTT’s major shareholders were opposed to the deal, it would be unlikely to succeed.

And while the Peter July board has refused to say anything more than the bank is having “strategic discussions with other parties”, the Sunday Express understands that RBC, the latest in a series of Canadian suitors to knock on RBTT’s door, is the favoured partner for a takeover deal.

Both have financial incentives to see the deal through, according to financial sources. RBC, Canada’s largest bank is flush with acquisition dollars, assets of Can$563 billion and a market capitalisation of Can$69 billion.

Wonderful. Wonderful. And it gets better:

It is also trailing behind rivals Bank of Nova Scotia and First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB),a subsidiary of Canadian bank, CIBC in its Caribbean operations.

RBTT, Trinidad’s largest bank with assets of US$7 billion, has stumbled in recent years on issues related to management, flat earnings and growth limitation.

The RBC offer, comprising 60 per cent cash and 40 per cent RBC stock, if approved by shareholders, would give RBTT stockholders a much-needed boost with an option of cash and RBC shares – Can$55.26 at the close of trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday.

These paragraphs establish why the deal would be beneficial to both parties, are neatly hedged (“if approved by shareholders”) and give relevant financial details.

Still to be worked out, however, is the price of RBC shares which are to be listed on the local Stock Exchange under the depository receipt system used on the Nasdaq and other major Exchanges where a specified number of shares of foreign companies are issued and traded.

Sources say the listing of a big international bank like RBC on the TT Stock Exchange would be a major coup for this country and could well catapult Trinidad centre stage and a step closer to the Prime Minister’s dream of making this country the financial capital of the Caribbean.

When I got to this point in the story, I was tempted to applaud. Ms Marajh clearly had spectacular sources on this one, because details like that are gold dust. She explained, clearly and concisely, the concept of depositary receipts and gave still more context on why the deal would be important for T&T.

Financial analysts say if 20 per cent of the cash or $TT1.6 billion from the RBTT sale goes back into the local market, it could help the recovery process of the stock market which has been in the doldrums in recent time.

Speculation of a takeover has seen RBTT stock climb from the start of September by $3 closing at the end of trade on Friday at $34.01.

GHL, a substantial shareholder in RBTT, has also benefitted from the market speculation, closing at $25 on Friday after starting September at $20.02.

This story had everything – the interested players, the context of the negotiations, and crucially for an acquisition story, all the important numbers given in context.

But this story was exceptional. Too often, our media fail to get the basics, the fundamentals right.

More on that soon.

  • Phil

    Without wishing to further any air of despondency, I would just like to point out that in the BBC, that institution seen as a paragon of journalistic skill and integrity, over-worked and under-skilled journos get basic things wrong on a regular basis. As every, people tend to fall down on basic numerical ‘explanatory’ skills (eg. ‘x has increased by 100%’ is not the same as ‘ x is 100% of what it was a year ago’ and so many others i could bore you with…). But even the specialist business journalists get it wrong. For example, I worked on a programme the other day which gave three seperate figures during the course of the hour for the increase in profits of a major company. Sad to say, the problem isn’t just in T&T…

  • Phil

    Without wishing to further any air of despondency, I would just like to point out that in the BBC, that institution seen as a paragon of journalistic skill and integrity, over-worked and under-skilled journos get basic things wrong on a regular basis. As every, people tend to fall down on basic numerical ‘explanatory’ skills (eg. ‘x has increased by 100%’ is not the same as ‘ x is 100% of what it was a year ago’ and so many others i could bore you with…). But even the specialist business journalists get it wrong. For example, I worked on a programme the other day which gave three seperate figures during the course of the hour for the increase in profits of a major company. Sad to say, the problem isn’t just in TT…

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