Taking care of business

October 28, 2012

It all started innocently enough. Back in London in the late 1990s, after six years in Hong Kong, I’d managed to blag a job at the BBCWorld Service, on a truly great program called East Asia Today, which was something of a dream come true. (And, in retrospect, the single cleverest and most satisfying place I’ve ever worked.)

One day the senior editor was handing out assignments, and she looked at me.

“You were in Hong Kong, right?” I nodded. “Well, that’s a pretty businessy city. Why don’t you handle business today?”

So, for the next few months I had three minutes or so to fill, writing, editing and presenting a round-up of Asian business news, despite having no qualifications whatsoever, apart from having lived in a money-obsessed former colony.

And yet, and yet. Since then, most of my formal, contract jobs have been business-related. “Oh,” an employer would say. “You did business for the World Service. Why don’t you do business for us?” Having a bank manager, a wife and a mortgage to satisfy, the natural, if slightly forced response, was to say yes.

So in the intervening years, I’ve worked on the business desks of several vast international news agencies, as well as various smaller magazines and newspapers, becoming more and more entrenched in writing about quarterly sales figures, market capitalisations and greenshoe rights options (or something).

I’m more than happy that I’ve managed to pay the bills. But, when I ask myself “where did it all go wrong?”, I go back to that morning in Bush House, and groan, internally.

Because, if there were a god, I’d have to assume he was messing with me. Because I loathe business news. My political attitudes were forged in the 1980s, on CND marches and during the Miners’ Strike, listening to Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn, watching Margaret Thatcher shred the social contract, and working towards a revolution that would return the control of the forces of production to the proletariat. Basically I was an unreconstructed Trotskyite. And I’ve become a business reporter. Go figure. Thanks, god.

The icing on the cake, so far, is my promotion, this week, to Business Editor of the paper I work for here in Cambodia.

I don’t want to seem churlish about this: it’s plenty more money, I get a much-coveted corner office, and my staff seem genuinely thrilled “to be working for a real journalist.” And it fits with my motives for moving to Cambodia in the first place, of helping to cement the fourth estate in this fragile democracy and teach people about the absolute importance of a free press, and how to do it.

But business news, again? You really couldn’t make it up. I liked it when irony was simply a rhetorical technique, not a way of life. But I guess that’s ironic too.


One Response to “Taking care of business”

  1. Nick said

    Congrats on the promotion. Happy Birthday.

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