Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of the Guardian, watches the first session of the International Media Council at Davos and, observing the moguls of news meeting the moguls of new, finds a parallel:
There have been many such discussions over the years – but few with such a concentration of high-level engagement from the people running so-called old media organisations. The discussion was unfocussed and (as always) inconclusive. But it’s a bit like climate change. Five years ago a lot of time was wasted listening to the deniers. Now there are very few: The nature of the problem has dawned on everyone – and an industry which is notoriously uncollaborative is actually getting together to find some solutions.
Yes, I think 2006 was the year when all big, old media realized they were screwed if they didn’t utterly change their models and perhaps still screwed even if they do.
And I like this parallel. Perhaps it shows that there is a master plan, after all: Just as we need more trees to balance all that damned carbon, we stop killing them.
(I’m catching up on reading blog posts — let alone news — from my week in Davos. The irony of the conversation is that with unmissable things happening from 8a to 1a, one has no time for reading news and comment on it.)
Reuters was holding a lunch party today up at the top of one of the mountains that lords over us here at Davos. I was looking forward to being there and seeing the view, shooting video, eating cheese. But I was not looking forward to the ride. I hate heights. But the promise of wine and cheese got me into the funicular railway and up and up and up we went. Just looking at the steep mountainside and the skiiers on it caused my palms to sweat (and promptly freeze). Luckily, I couldn’t see much because the wind was so high. Here’s how high:
When we arrived at the end of a second rail line, they told us — of course, this hardly ever happens, they insist — that they were closing the gondola we were to take next because the wind was too dangerous. Damned thing would swing back and forth on that thin wire. Sweat spreads. They came back and said that though it’s officially closed, they’d run the gondola for the party crew but we’d all have to ride together to have enough weight to keep the thing steady. Palpitations are soon to start. It also becomes clear that we nonskiiers could get stuck at the restaurant even if we got there.
Thank goodness, a banker and his wife went out to look at the gondola and saw it swinging like a monkey on a tree. They decided to bail. Whew. I had cover. I wouldn’t be the only wuss. So I, too decided to bail, as did another participant who had tried to ski but gave up halfway down the slope because he couldn’t even see his feet.
We stood at the funicular station and all the Swiss skiiers got off looking at us like we’re such wimps. “Auf Englisch,” I said to the guide, “we say, ‘I’m chicken.'” As toes froze, the railway finally started and we came back down — God bless gravity. As I said goodbye to my fellow wimps on terra firma, I slipped on the curb and fell. This is why I don’t ski. This is why I don’t like heights: I have enough trouble on size 12s six feet and four inches above the ground. Oh, well.
At a session on the future of Iran, the panelists talk about blogs as central to political information and discussion. One participant says that “talk of blogs can sometimes trivialize the quality of information in Iran” but that the people read the New York Times and Washington Post and that a role of blogs is to “boomerang” that into society.
Here’s a quick video from a fun party at Davos thrown by Hubert Burda, German media mogul and the most gracious host I know. The real star of the show was Claudia Schiffer, whom Dr. Burda dragged around like a sunfish on a hook, introducing her to everyone (even me). Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, also speaks (you have to hear him talk about — and pronounce with Germanic gusto his avatar).
Next session is on scaling innovation in foreign aid with Bill Gates, Paul Wolfowitz, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president elected in Africa, Bill Easterly ex of the World Bank, and Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, as moderator.
Gates says that the amount spent on invested in foreign aid over the last n years is equivalent to the amount invested by venture capital: about $500 billion. He talks about aid and charity from the perspective of investment. He says that that saved about 100 million lives and that works out to $23,000 per life. Is that a lot? We spend a lot more to save lives in the West, he says. He also says that revolutions save lives.
Wolfowitz says the VC model works in some areas but not others. He says a small percentage of that U.S. aid went to Mobutu in Zaire and did more than just failed as an investment; it destroyed the country. But education is an example of strong investment; he points to South Korea. He also says the best-practices of good use of aid is consistent with the VC model. Wolfowitz says there is good news in Africa that doesn’t make news: a third of countries with a third of the population growing economically at 4 percent a year, a rate Europe would envy. Zakaria adds that that’s because in part of of high commodity prices.
Easterly says that when VC companies screw up, they die. Aid agencies don’t die. He goes on to criticize aid effort.
Gates gives a wonderfully passionate screed against that, arguing that it is wrong to judge aid based on GDP. Saving lives may not raise GDP but Gates says that saving lives in itself is of value. Asked about a Foreign Affairs story that warned of attention going heavily to sexy diseases, Gates says he is delighted that these diseases have become sexy.