DAVOS, Switzerland — It’s hard to think of any other event quite like the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting here in the Swiss Alps. The U.N. General Assembly draws more world leaders. The Oscars attract more celebrities. But nothing brings together quite this combination of corporate executives, academics, philanthropists and media.
It began in 1971 as a two-week meeting designed to improve European management. Some 450 executives attended. It has grown to something both grander and broader, with 2,500 attendees and a sweeping motto: “Committed to improving the state of the world.” No small task.
To a considerable extent they all come because they all come. Some critics dismiss the meetings as a talk shop or a gathering of elites who fly pretty high above the world most people live in, the one they are committed to improving.
Yet, for all that, interesting things are often said here and occasionally news is broken here. One year, AP Chief Switzerland Correspondent John Heilprin scooped the world on a new security policy in which the United States said that protecting corporate supply chains was now as important as the longtime job of guarding shipping lanes. How did he get the scoop? The then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was sent to Davos with half a dozen copies of the new directive signed personally by President Barack Obama. They were intended for other world leaders. But it’s hard to actually catch up with a world leader here, even though there are usually about 40 at least passing through. So John seized the moment and cajoled one of those documents out of an aide.
Some news organizations send small armies to cover Davos. One, for example, takes over the town’s library for its operations. AP takes a different approach. A small but hearty band of journalists covers all formats. It’s a great place to snag newsmakers for video or text. Pan Pylas, an AP business reporter here from London, recalls standing feet from actor Matt Damon one moment and then being quick marched by his editors (well, me actually) to a private briefing with the president of Iran.
“It’s unusual to get so many newsmakers and thought leaders all together in a very small place, when they are unusually accessible and a little bit more relaxed than usual,” Heilprin said. “For a reporter, the first challenge is to recognize them all. The second is to quickly think of a good question when one passes by.”
The highlight of our Davos week is the annual AP Davos debate, the brainchild of Director of Global Video News Sandy MacIntyre and Senior Field Producer Masha McPherson. Working with the Davos organizers, we turn one of the panel discussions into a broadcast and send it to our 700 broadcast clients and hundreds of digital news outlets.
We’ve had some memorable moments. Like the time Prime Minister David Cameron asked Bono to help craft a message for the fight on global poverty. Or when the Italian finance minister got angry because we asked about a bank scandal in Siena instead of the high-minded global financial questions he was looking for. Our Italian customers were very happy.
But that’s Davos. If you remember why you’re here, as a journalist, you can always find a story.