At a Media Breakfast, The ‘Wrong People’ Talking

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(From left) Karmazin, Rosensweig, Evans, Wolf and Sorrell dust it up

It didn’t quite come to fisticuffs, but there were plenty of fireworks this morning as we trudged back to the Four Seasons, this time for a just-so breakfast of berries and croissants among the moneyed media elite.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief of “undervalued” global ad giant WPP, got increasingly frustrated with the likes of Sir Harold Evans, who was touting the value of books and other paper-driven media. Sorrell ultimately quipped that “I think this conversation is being conducted by the wrong people.” On the stage where a fountain usually sits were also Michael Wolf (the other one — and maybe the reason the arguments didn’t get physical) of MTV, Yahoo’s Dan Rosensweig, and Mel Karmazin, now of Sirius but who spent an awful lot of time speaking about his days heading CBS, and his selling of it.

Evans walked the stage like a ringleader, and expanded the theater in the round square to demand questions of audience members Tina Brown (a.k.a Lady Evans), Larry Ingrassia from the New York Times, BusinessWeek‘s Jon Fine (a.k.a. Sir Touby) and someone else we didn’t recognize. Brown seemed very unhappy when she, too, stood up for what we’d call “mainstream journalism,” and got an earful from Sorrell and Yahoo’s man. Rosensweig said at one point that he didn’t need to pay reporters because he had lots of people, in Iraq, London, wherever, who could take cellphone pix and email in whatever they observed. Brown, who’s working on a book about the 10 years after Princess Diana‘s death, told us she’s just not sure how we can, with the digital model, fund the kind of journalism that takes years to research and write.

When Evans said that Woodward’s recent Iraq book — not some “blogs” (he fairly spit out the term and called the stuff they do “rubbish”) — helped tip the balance in the elections, Rosensweig noted that “no one read it.”


And we couldn’t help but think of the Congressional pages who upended Mark Foley by sending around the nasty man’s emails, and their effect on the election. Sorrell had already weighed in about how the new openness of information — everyone in any office can talk to the whole world and disclose anything via email — makes those who were formerly “privileged” with information uncomfortable.

Nothing solved, of course, and lots of financial geek talk about valuations and buying companies; the sponsors were The Conference Board and The Week magazine. Karmazin blamed Sarbanes-Oxley for all the business world’s ills (poowah wittle corpowations have to expense their options now). Mel, give it a rest. You’re still playing with other people’s money, and it’s the cheapest capital around. Oh, and whether this whole Web 2.0 thing is another bubble. The answer: Yes, no, maybe a little, no not really.

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Jon Fine (in hat and scarf) and someone from Pitney-Bowes