Several media moguls were found yesterday wandering aimlessly around Denver International Airport, complaining that they had no next conference to go to. One of them said he had not been home since the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.
“After Davos there was TED, then that cute Southwest thing that’s so hot. I know I was on a panel about convergence (or was it convection?) at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Bilderburg is in there somewhere. And, of course, the Allen & Co. retreat. Then yesterday I hitched a ride on the last corporate jet out of Sun Valley, found myself here, looked at my BlackBerry, and discovered to my horror that I had no place to go next.
“What do they expect me to do?” he asked plaintively. “Go into the office or something?”
This man -- who preferred not to be identified (“Just describe me as a very important media executive,” he said humbly.) -- reported that his corporate staff was working overtime to find him a conference, or even a trade show, to attend.
“They only need to fill in the gap between now and the Bohemian Grove,” he sighed. “No wonder the Chinese are eating our lunch. By the way, where is our lunch? Do they expect us to get up, order it and pay for it? What kind of conference is this? Oh, yes, it’s not a conference. It’s the airport.”
A fellow sufferer joined the conversation, chewing on an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and saying, “I haven’t had a decent canape for a day and a half.” He went on: “My staff even tried to book me into the Salzburg Festival, claiming it was a conference on music and public education. How big a fool do they think I am?”
“Actually,” he confided conspiratorially, “I happen to know that there is a small but promising convocation on Civility in Politics and Cable Television at Hilton Head the first week in August. And there’s another one on Civil Discourse in the Public Square over Labor Day weekend. “It’s dog-eat-dog in the civility business these days,” he said cheerily, “but it can keep your dance card filled.”
A third man’s story was perhaps the most poignant. “I was never a mogul,” he confessed. “I was just an ordinary journalist on the ‘ideas’ beat. I even won a Pulitzer for my article, ‘Ideas Gaining Influence, Experts Say.’ And another one the next year for ‘Role of Ideas Shrinking, Analysts Contend.’ Then one day my editor sent me to Sundance. That was two years ago, and I haven’t been home since.
“All these festivals and conferences start out saying they don’t want any press,” he explained. “They want it to be a totally private affair, where moguls can kick off their shoes, divvy up markets, engage in conspiracies in restraint of trade, and generally play capitalism like a board game, without any busybodies looking over their shoulders. Nobody says this explicitly, of course. It’s all in code words like ‘rafting’ and ‘fly-fishing’ and ‘quality time with the kids.’
“But it turns out that many of these moguls LIKE having a few journalists around. So they invite one or two, who write about how exclusive the event is. And the more they write about it, the less true it is. And pretty soon you’ve got a media circus.” He smiled ruefully, hands gripping a Sun Valley gift bag. “Which is maybe what everyone secretly wanted all along.”
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