Thursday, February 28, 2008

World Debate

There was a bonus session on Wednesday night, when BBC World Service taped a panel discussion on whether media today (new and old media) is keeping us better informed or not. The panel consisted of
  • Sergei Brin, founder of Google - focusing on Internet tools like GOogle News and Google Reader
  • Andrew Mawenda - a passionate and articulate Ugandan journalist arguing for the moral responsibility of journalists to report completely, fairly and with balance
  • Queen Noor of Jordan - focusing on the need for better dialogue and information about the Middle East and how the new media in the Middle East had liberated people there
  • Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame - who again focused on the need for high quality journalism, the need for intelligent filters, and the fact that New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were still fine papers despite the media conglomerates doing their best to damage good journalism
  • Dan Gilbert, author of Struggling for Happiness - who focused on what consumers wanted from their news

Just prior to the debate, there was a real TED Moment. There were technical difficulties that were delaying the start, and the moderator was gamely filling in time, when there was some very loud banter from the back of the hall in a strong Scottish accent. When the speaker was urged up on stage, to everyone's surprise it was RObin Williams, who proceeded to give a hilarious 10 minute spontaneous monologue that had everyone rolling with laughter. And some of it was clearly made up on the spot, relating to that particular predicament, and things that had happened in the conference. What a treat.

The main points discussed in the panel were:

  • how shamefully weak coverage in the US was of the rest of the world. Mawenda said that with the closure of US bureaus in Africa, journalists tended to be parachuted in during Incidents. Given their ignorance and lack of contacts on the ground they did a poor Job. Queen Noor said the same held true for most of middle east where American media did a very poor job of really understanding what was going on. (At the audience question period, I was tempted to brag about Stephanie Nolen in Africa for the Globe!)
  • the concern about the fragmentation of media and the personalization on the web allowing people to choose news that will simply reinforce their prejudices rather than inform them

Great session.

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