Filled with self-styled straight shooters who claim to be beholden to no one, the blogosphere has long positioned itself as an antidote to the so-called access journalism racking the mainstream media, most infamously during the run-up to the Iraq War and, more recently, in the run-up to the financial crisis. Because they rely heavily on high-level, establishment sources for their stories, the argument goes, mainstream journos -- think Judith Miller -- must censor their own reporting or risk losing access to the machers in the corridors of power. The blogosphere, with its emphasis on commentary, analysis and citizen journalism, claims to be unfettered by such restraints. After all, people don't visit blogs to read worked-over quotes by a CEO or a government official.
Against that backdrop, it's pretty weird to witness the growing army of bloggers who now flock to the World Economic Forum in Davos, the ne plus ultra of access journalism. Bloggy new-media types like Arianna Huffington and Jeff Jarvis have been schlepping to Switzerland for years, and they have more recently been joined by financial bloggers, including Business Insider's Henry Blodget and Reuters' Felix Salmon. Then there are the big media outlets including The New York Times, Time Inc. and CNBC, which conduct interviews with bigwig attendees from the mountaintop.
Indeed, Davos seems tailor-made for access-obsessed CNBC, which specializes in providing a friendly forum for CEOs and other muckety-mucks to talk directly to viewers. But what of Salmon, Blodget and their ilk? What do they get from a conference where most of the "real" action takes place behind closed doors while reporters lurk in hallways or at parties hoping to nab a few moments with a Big Name attendee? Faced with this reality, bloggers employed a different strategy in Switzerland this year: They went to Davos not to cover it, but to mock it.
Blodget, who vowed to give his readers "The Truth About Davos," judged it to be "just like high school." Salmon declared: "Just about everything in Davos is ridiculous in its own way. It's like Disneyland." And Harvard Business Review's Justin Fox, in his "Obligatory Pre-Davos Post!," admitted that when he was blogging for Time.com "traffic fell off markedly as soon as I started posting from the Swiss Alps... There's seldom much in the way of news generated at Davos, and most people aren't itching to hear a soundbite from CEO or government official rushing between meetings."
That message wasn't lost on Timesman Andrew Ross Sorkin, who in a conference missive outed the high cost of being a Davos Man (as much as $622,000, depending on the size of your entourage). Sorkin's piece was hailed as a standout by the New Yorker's John Cassidy, who was not at Davos, while Blodget told readers that everyone at the event was talking about it. That's nice, but the story seemed a tad hypocritical, given the Times' symbiotic relationship with Davos. Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was at the confab, as were Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof -- Davos Men of the highest order -- plus Sorkin and other Times scribes who were covering it. How much the cash-strapped New York Times Co. spends to have them there Sorkin's piece did not say.
Perhaps that's because Sorkin is on his way to becoming a Davos Man himself -- Blodget blogged that Sorkin is "a god" around Davos "and quite possibly the first one invited to every party." And why would a god want to anger his people? But Sorkin's piece was indicative of the type of snark that the media, particularly the new media, brought with it to Davos this year: sharp-tongued enough to protect itself against charges of being too cozy with the global elite, but soft enough to ensure that its authors will get invited back. Despite all the negative coverage, few journos, including bloggers, seem able to resist the invitation and the proximity to power.
Indeed, after spending a few days at the conference, Blodget gave its corporate attendees a big wet kiss, concluding that for executives, the business meetings they conduct at Davos "can end up being vastly more valuable than the price of admission." OK, fine, but if Davos is nothing more than a big networking event, doesn't that make all the Big Thoughts a farce? In the blogosphere, only Salmon seems to have stuck to his guns and left the confab as disgusted by it as when he arrived. Moving from snark to satire, he lauded Davos for "deftly leveraging the talk around its chosen theme -- 'shared norms for the new reality' -- into an effective and timely intervention in Egypt."
Well done. But whether that conclusion required a trip to Switzerland is another question.