Keeping true to Swiss clichés, the World Economic Forum (WEF) press meeting in Geneva last Wednesday started just as the clocks struck eleven o’clock. The rows around me were already remarkably filled with members of international media even though there were still some days to go until the Annual Meeting. Just like with skiing, it’s always worth to follow the early birds to find the good snow. As a well-known glamorous alpine winter chat stuffed with a smorgasbord of who’s who from across industries, sectors and disciplines, Davos is a natural magnet for media. The call rarely goes unanswered as there also are many other reasons to climb up to Davos, some elaborated by my fellow reporter Aishwarya Nair. But there is still the lingering question of why we, Student Reporters, would be jumping onto an already crowded boat. Call us academic junkies, but rule out skiing as our main driver.
Profiling WEF: Does it fit for Student Reporter?
Student Reporter is an emerging young media initiative writing about sustainable business and economics. In order to not get lost in the online media jungle, we focus on conferences, a scene where we believe to encounter a highly concentrated micro cosmoses of exchanging new ideas in one spot. With this as our main focus and a natural appetite for high-profile events, it seems to be a logical step trying to get involved with WEF. Indeed, with his very first words at the press meeting, Klaus Schwab, underlined the reasons for Davos’ success: Davos is the most comprehensive, most interdisciplinary, action-oriented gathering to produce food for thought.
What sets Student Reporter apart from many other mainstream media outlets is, most importantly, our background as active and young university members, and the project-based set-up where each team defines its objectives and direction according to the event and setting. Flying true to the spirit of academics everywhere, we are always interested to soak in new ideas and join the latest discussion. However, to avoid smart-alecky philosophical discussions in the ivory tower, we try to observe mainstream meetings, picking up ideas from the sessions, and reflect on them, possibly making connections to related concepts and applying them to a broader audience. The WEF provides a broad field of such ideas and discussions.
Nor are specific issue conferences, such as the World Resources Forum which we cover on a regular basis, our only focus, but also single complex conferences such as Rio+20. Again, this is what makes Davos special. As a conference, it is a unique combination of the complexity of a single global conference enriched with the potential for an ongoing coverage of these type of events, and therefore complements our portfolio perfectly.
A space of our own
But a good reason to go does not make it yet a good match. Moreover, there are already a plethora of journalists around, already jamming the news channels with reports from Davos. However, we do create our unique space, perceiving the world from a younger generation’s perspective. Therein lies our greatest value.
Listening to the Q&A session at the end of the press meeting, there were simplified two types of questions reverberating through the room – regional and global. Regional agents, who focussed on geographically specific issues, such as why Russia is in the spotlight this year or what is happening with Brazil’s low growth. The big global media leaders like Bloomberg or Reuters went for the high-level questions instead, such as what are the signs of the fatigue of globalism. Both fulfill a necessary function but often fail to escape the work routine to take a different angle since professional journalism is often framed by gridlocked rules and predefined approaches how to perceive the world.
Though an armada of journalists are still on the way, our activities are a nice complement to the teeming mass of regional reporters and the word’s media leaders. Without the intention to push any media outlet into a midlife crisis, we’re here to fill in the gap that is the lack of the younger generation’s perspective. Less restricted by established patterns and approaches, we hope to bring our contribution to this sort of media landscape at the WEF.
Despite its very public appearance and the open collaboration with media, Davos is still very much a private meeting, which often means strict restrictions in access. However, for us, the WEF breaks new ground by cooperating with a student media initiative, beneficial to their larger involvement with civil society. This collaboration gives us the chance to cover the Open Forum, media work and civil society engagement.
While the attractiveness of the Annual Meeting cannot be denied, the Open Forum has to be analysed from a different perspective. Started as a parallel forum with a smaller participatory audience of mostly local residents of Davos, the Open Forum today successfully functions as bridge between the closed sessions of the WEF and the public. As Gilbert Probst, Managing Director, confirms: “You have about 30 percent of our [Annual Meeting] participants who go there … we don’t have to run after speakers like ten years ago or five years ago but now actually a lot of our speakers asked, ‘Can I be on the panel?’.” The Open Forum stands also for the broader direction of the WEF as an organisation in the interest of the global public.
Comparing the WEF main programme with the Open Forum is like a top-down view from the mountain – they are on a different level. The Open Forum is made for the global public, and therefore is much more down-to-earth and accessible without lacking content and relevance. It hits the pulse of current questions we are facing these days. In order to frame the context of these Forum sessions, we will also cover the civil society, the Davos community and media. A brief look into the line-up of the Open Forum tells us that we will encounter some of the following questions: Is there a need for a new way to head for NGOs or are they better off with improvising Jazz skills? Is there solidarity or domination in the Eurozone and is it really the fat invoice caused by obesity? And are mega sport events just a copycat of Caesars bread and circuses or a new religion’s church or at the end just a temporary roof for all the unemployed?
Climbing up Davos with six Student Reporters of various expertise and focii, we do have the capacity to cover several aspects of the Open Forum. This allows us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the atmostphere and get a closer look before we dive into topic-specific discussions in our diverse team. The capacity of several international academics working together on one event is unique and enhances the Open Forum’s objective to serve the global public.
Being a curious Student Reporter, Davos is definitely a conference worth a closer look at. We are the only student media organization invited by WEF media team. And being less dependent on celebrity hunting to increase our circulation, our focused coverage of the Open Forum and its participants is the chance to bring the public dialogue and the unique Davos atmosphere down from the its altitude in the Alps closer to the rest of the world. As the photographer in me would tell you: it doesn’t matter what subject you shoot – a slightly different angle can change the whole picture.