OLD Media Moves

Why Davos is a must for biz reporters

January 29, 2010


Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman has been in Davos, Switzerland, this week covering the World Economic Forum.

The annual meeting is taking place Jan. 27 through Jan. 31 and features 2,500 leaders from more than 90 countries addressing current challenges and future risks in the global economy.

Claman began reporting live on Wednesday morning with interviews and commentary from industry leaders such as NYSE CEO Duncan Niederauer; Rich Gelfond, CEO of Imax; and Jim Turley, Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young.

Claman talked to Talking Biz News on Friday via e-mail about covering the event. What follows is an edited transcript.

1. Why do so many business journalists cover Davos?

You get an amazing bang for your buck at Davos. Major business leaders AND policy makers are all in one place. Where else can you interview industry titans from around the globe along with world leaders? It’s a correspondent’s dream and most people here are very serious about global discourse. It’s my first year, and while I haven’t had a minute to breathe, I find it fascinating.

2. How do you make your coverage stand out from others filing stories about the same events?

Fox Business has always focused on doing business news differently. We’re not interested in being an “analyst’s call on television.” If you want black and white balance sheet numbers, you can find that anywhere. But with me I’m way more interested in the less obvious. Of course we are doing dozens of one-on-one interviews but I was asked to moderate a panel last night (Thursday) on renewable energy stimulating global economies and I brought a camera crew to grab people more informally.

We ended up asking Mike Splinter of Applied Materials, Jim Rogers of Duke Energy, Laura Tyson, formerly of the Clinton Administration and now a UC Berkeley professor, along with Tom Friedman of the New York Times about what each one of them gets out of Davos. Jim Rogers, a big CEO from the South, was so excited about what he learns here, telling me it was ideas he heard here at Davos 10 years ago that helped him transform his utility giant into a more clean tech company.

3. Are there chances to get exclusives at Davos, and how?

Sure, you can sometimes land them by establishing good relationships and booking early but everyone here at Davos is interested in spreading the word and ideas, not selfishly holding them to one news outlet. For example, we interviewed Bill Gates Friday, and there is no way he would limit his message about innovation and global health care to just one network. Now, while it is wonderful to slap the big exclusive banner up on the screen for a guest, I’m not that interested in that goal as a driver. I’d like to believe that no matter where in line we stand, we will always do a more natural, compelling and informative interview.

I can’t tell you how many times in my career that I was able to make news during an interview even if I was second or third in line. That said, it is great to be first or exclusive. At Davos this year we have been first with Dr. Toby Cosgrove of the Cleveland Clinic, Joe Moglia of TDAmeritrade, Mike McAllister of Humana, Jim Gianopulos of Fox Filmed Entertainment who green-lit Avatar three years ago, Rick Goings of Tupperware, Shai Agassi of Better Place, Dennis Nally of PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Stan Bergman of Henry Schein, Suresh Vaswani of Wipro, and Sanjay Kalra of Tech Mahindra.

My mother, however, thinks this exclusive fight is a very silly battle and always says, “Only you and your competitors notice that stuff.”

4. What preparation work do you do before arriving in Switzerland?

Aside from researching intensively — which I do for every guest no matter where I am — the key to Davos preparation is to have KILLER SNOWBOOTS. I am from L.A., so I’m a wimp. Mine are Sorels that are guaranteed to keep your feet warm down to minus 50 degrees. These are the ones they wear at Base Camp at Everest, okay? I also packed seven cashmere sweaters and scarves, long underwear, ski pants and serious ski gloves. Our live shot location is on a balcony overlooking the Alps and trust me, that wind is bitter. Its like a wide-open, sub-zero freezer.

5. How much source development are you able to do when the CEOs and others always seem to be in meetings?

I have been running around finding people at the Congress Center, handing out cards and just having very direct and focused conversations. Some of the best relationships I am striking are with CEOs right after I interview them. We have tons of Swiss food and amazing hot soup the Holland House folks keep bringing to our location so the CEOs all want to nosh afterward and that is when I start in. That’s how I got a tip that President Clinton would be showing up to the U.N. tent near our live shot location. A CEO I had just interviewed felt comfortable enough after our interview that afterward he quietly whispered to me to watch out for the president and gave me the time. We ran down with our cameras and sure enough, Clinton showed up, and we grabbed a quick soundbite with him about his Haiti initiative.

6. How does Fox Biz try to explain an international event to the small businessman back in the United States?

Don’t undersell small business leaders. They’re sometime more sophisticated and gutsy than big business titans. I call it like I see it. I also believe you can never insult anyone by informing them. People love to learn. I think by bringing all viewers the feel of the event, you’re inviting them along for the wild Matterhorn Swiss ride that is Davos.

7. Is covering Davos a lot like the pack journalism of a presidential campaign, or are you able to break away from the back?

Not at all. We can go wherever we want and that includes way off-site. I’ve found that the Congress Center where all the panels are being held isn’t necessarily the place to get the best stories. Last night I went to a private, off-the-record dinner given by the NASDAQ. Tons of CEOs and leaders were all talking about global issues. It helped me get even better insight into what industry and policy makers are talking about. Tonight, I landed an invitation to the Davos Shabbat dinner where Israeli President Shimon Peres will be.

Then the Google party and if I’m still standing, Wipro has a Bollywood event I will try to make. That’s part of the layering on process. And of course, you’re not doing your full Davos reporting if you don’t hit the ski slopes. One of the first things I did was rent skis and drag my crew up onto the mountain. We had our Swiss production assistant Carole go backwards on her snowboard while shooting me doing a standup. The fact is, CEOs love to ski, they just don’t want their shareholders to see them doing it.

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