Reading the newspaper last week, I came across an article that begged for further attention:

“Condones, afectados por escasez en Venezuela: se venden en más de 11 mil pesos [mexicanos] (US$755).”

Photo courtesy of the author

7 gallons of gas cost 2000 bolivares (2 Bolivares Fuertes) in 2007. Photo courtesy of the author

While gas in Venezuela continues below $1 per tank, goods shortages in Venezuela have extended beyond milk and McDonalds French Fries and have finally reached the prophylactic section, says Bloomberg. In perhaps the piece’s most memorable comment, local art director (oh the good humor of those in the advertising business!) Jonatan Montilla told Bloomberg that, “the country is in such bad shape, that we even have to wait on line to have sex.”

While catchy, there are a few problems with this headline. The first is that it assumes the fixed exchange rate between the Bolivar Fuerte and the US Dollar. Officially, this stands at around 6.3 BFs to 1 USD. Unofficially, it is around 190 to 1, according to the article published by Bloomberg. The second is that the journalist, who claimed the price was seen on Mercado Libre (Latin America’s eBay), chose to omit the other, much lower, prices of condoms seen on the site.

Thirdly, the article omits the fact that Venezuela actually has three distinct official foreign exchange rates, following the creation this week of the Foreign Exchange Marginal System (Simadi).

Simadi will create a third market for Bolivares Fuertes, adding to the ‘official’ Cencoex (6.3 to the dollar) and the ‘business official’ Sicad (12 to the dollar). Venezuelan officials expect this new market to make the currency fall to between ‘120 to 140 BFs to the dollar’.

Condoms and Journalism

The article got me thinking about catchy headlines and reminded me of something a veteran journalist told me about 10 years ago when I asked him about his craft.

If it bleeds, it leads

I was struck by both his candor and cynicism. At the time, I felt like he was letting me peek under the hood, allowing me to see into the great secret that drove the sales of newspapers and made giants out of ordinary men (who dared write the story).

But of course, what he said wasn’t any great secret. He just offered his experienced take on what media outlets publish, and why they publish it.

Translated into more literal terms, the catchy, time-tested phrase simply means that if the headline is gripping, people will read (or click on) it. There aresuccessful (and notbusinesses built on this veryconcept.

If it bleeds it leads. Sex sells. But forex doesn’t.