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Central Bank buries the lead – again


Central Bank buries the lead – again

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The other day I was driving into town and saw what seemed to be a huge pyramid where the gleaming ivory tower of the Central Bank had previously stood. Except that it was upside down.

Then I realised my eyes were playing tricks on me, and all that really happened was that the bank had released its latest report on the economy a little earlier in the day.

I realise that this silly little metaphor may not be understood by people who have never had a class in Journalism 101. I am not talking about you dear, readers – I mean the people who write those releases at the bank.

The inverted pyramid in journalism came out of the old days of hard-nosed newspaper reporting, especially those stories sent over the telegraph wire, long before we got so pampered by the Internet and almost worldwide instant communication for everyone, not just reporters.

In those days you had to cram everything into the first paragraph in case the line went down for some reason.

So the first sentence, or at least the first paragraph, had to contain the “Five Ws” of who, what, were, when  and why, and also, sometimes “how.” That was the lead.

The second paragraph, called “The Body,” would contain the crucial information which you had just very briefly summarized in the first paragraph.

The third and subsequent paragraphs, called “The Tail,” would get a bit more anecdotal, offer up interesting quotes, and generally add colour and a sense of “being there” to your story.

Those of us lucky enough to remember stories being printed non-stop off the wire before the days of computer screens know how valuable it was to have stories written this way, because you knew that after, say, the first three paragraphs, you could just cut out the rest if you didn’t have the space for the whole story.

Let me offer my own version of how the Central Bank could have kicked off its most recent press release, summarising actual information from the release.

(My words): “Over the next six months, the Barbados Government will have to raise revenue and reduce spending by another $175 million – on top of new measures already in place – to achieve its own target deficit of 6.6 per cent of GDP for fiscal 2014-15.”

But instead of this approach, the Central Bank chose to bury the lead and instead, gave us a completely off-the-point opening paragraph.

Then we have a lovely chart illustrating it, followed by more platitudes about our private sector-led strategy “which has always worked for us.” (Jepter and Donville, please read this report).

Then there are some more comforting words about the Barbados dollar being “protected” by the foreign reserves, with another chart to help us visualise this protection in action (but all I could see was that orange line, depicting the 2013 reserves position, taking a nosedive all the way down to December).

I have long passed the stage of righteous indignation over these reports from the Central Bank, which seems bent on perfecting the technique of cutting up bad news into little pieces and sprinkling it all over rose-coloured odes to Barbados’ former glory as an economy going somewhere other than down.

I have opined before that this is a disservice to the country, that it has the effect of clouding the issues we face, and allows a weak and indecisive Government to meander on, like Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.