The old-media business model is collapsing all around us, yet somehow newspapers and magazines and TV networks find the money to send big crews into the Swiss Alps for an annual business conference. Why is that?
1) For the global TV news networks—BBC World, CNN International, and CNBC’s various iterations—it’s the equivalent of College Football Gameday on ESPN. Davos offers a backdrop that adds variety and excitement to the proceedings. Plus, the presence of lots of prominent talking heads in one place turns the perpetual challenge of booking enough guests to fill all that airtime into an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel.
2) The sports analogy also holds true to a certain extent for other big news organizations like Reuters, Bloomberg, the FT, the NYT, and the WSJ. The beauty of sports events is that you can arrange all the logistics beforehand, but still witness something unexpected and newsworthy. Not all that many unexpected and truly newsworthy things happen here in Davos, but this event is so much easier and cheaper to cover than, say, a war that it can still seem like a good bet.
3) A few publications whose subscriber base includes a lot of aspiring Davos men and women—The Economist, the FT (outside the UK at least), Handelsblatt, the International Herald Tribune, the international editions of Time, Newsweek and the WSJ—are actually here to serve their readers.
4) For most of the rest of the media folk here—myself included—the main attraction/excuse for coming has long been that we were invited and it’s actually kind of a cool event where you learn new things, meet interesting people, and get to pretend that you’re a peer of people who are far richer and/or more important than you are. Until recently, most of the editors and columnists who came here didn’t actually cover the event, they just participated in it—and got some future story ideas and contacts and maybe a column out of their days in the mountains. Most of us can’t get away with that anymore, so we blog and we blog and we videoblog. But I get the sense that most of this is more an attempt to justify the trip than part of a well-thought-out news strategy.