Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Web Summit: How old school journalism was given new world treatment

Were you at Web Summit 2020? No, thought not. Luckily for you Alan Geere was among the 104,328 attendees at one of the world’s biggest online love-ins and sends this verdict


Sometimes it felt like you had wandered into a zeitgeist TV show – think ‘Industry’ the BBC2 drama currently airing about life in the bonking, sorry, banking world – with impossibly attractive and intelligent young people sharing the secrets of their life in a totally confident and competent way.

Of course, there were older people there too.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee (65), casually billed as ‘inventor of World Wide Web’ was there touting his new business, but grumpy old man of the day award goes to Norman Pearlstine (79) the outgoing (as in shortly leaving, not party animal) executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, who pessimistically presaged the demise of journalism.

“There is an existential crisis of journalism,” he said. “Government handouts or altruistic benefactors seem the only way to go. Large numbers of the population do not have the money to pay for information.”

Probably from his perspective things do look a bit grim, especially as he revealed that 20 years ago the LA Times had 1,250 journalists – yes one thousand two hundred and fifty – and today just has a fraction of that.

But it wasn’t difficult to see that Norman might have missed the point. Here were more than a Wembley Stadium-full of people who had paid up to 999 euros to practise their own individual journalism – listening to information and weighing up the interest, importance and effect of that knowledge.

Wed Summit isn’t going to change attitudes and approaches to journalism and publishing overnight. But like its heavyweight political and financial counterpart – Davos – anything that treats the problems with both seriousness and positivity has to be applauded.

And, yes, I’m ready for Web Summit 2021 – hopefully at the Altice Arena in Lisbon which I hear is very nice in December!

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