Monday, February 12, 2007

Reuters Alumni Night: Wolf Blitzer and Devin Wenig on News and Networks Past and Present

Reuters hosted its first official corporate alumni event in the U.S. tonight at its 3 Times Square office in the Carnegie Hall room, an events facility that was packed with a wealth of talents who once served at the pleasure of Baron de Reuter's successors. As with other major corporations Reuters has been working actively to cultivate its extensive alum network as a key asset to draw upon for goodwill and ideas. There is an alumni Web site to help facilitate connecting with other alums, planned availability of the Reuters Messaging network for alums on a (presumed) complimentary basis and planned semi-annual networking events along the lines of this inaugural get-together.

To kick off festivities Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, COO Devin Wenig and newly crowned Reuters Alumni head Julie Holland welcomed CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer to share his thoughts on news past and present. Given that Wolf's first assignment as a reporter was for Reuters in Israel during the eventful 1970s the warmly welcomed alumnus recounted the virtues of perseverance, objectivity and - of course - getting it first that are the hallmarks of Reuters journalism.

Blitzer recounted one key moment from 1973 when he was covering the visit of German Chancellor Willy Brandt to the historic mountaintop fortress of Masada in Israel. The helicopter carrying Brandt and other dignitaries almost disappeared off the top of the steep cliffs of Madada when a strong burst of wind caught the aircraft just as it was landing. Seeing news when other journalists were getting ready to follow the visitors on a sightseeing tour Blitzer badgered the site's tram operator to take him to the only nearby phone booth at the bottom of the mountain and managed to file a world-beating story on the incident a full hour before the general press had made its way down from the mountaintop.

Kudos to Blitzer, but then fast forward to today's news. While he acknowledged that he was still trying to hold to traditional standards of journalism, Blitzer also had to acknowledge that the army of citizen journalists who are creating their own breaking news through a myriad of channels were already making news gathering a very different profession. Blitzer sees major changes afoot in the next five years as user-generated news content begins to play a more leading role in journalism, not supplanting the traditional qualities and tenets of mainstream journalism but definitely changing the power balance in news even more than it has today.

Reuters COO Devin Wenig echoed this somewhat in an earlier Q&A when he acknowledged that Reuters would be moving aggressively to incorporate Web 2.0 publishing technologies into their core financial information offerings in the not-too-distant future. Already a company that bases much of its content on facilitating real-time market conversations between peers in the securities industry user-generated content is certainly nothing new to the 150-plus year-old company. But the advent of Web 2.0 technologies that make it ever easier for peers of all kinds to communicate in ways that they've become accustomed to via consumer content products augur a new era of more direct and open communications between peers in finance that promises to bring market conversations to a new level of immediacy and intimacy.

As with the movable feast that is the Reuters alumni network - or any other professional network - content created by people who one trusts at a personal level is providing a level of endorsement that is hard for content providers tied to other forms of endorsed value such as brand advertising to replicate. The basics of this personal communication have been there since the wealthy and the wannabes congregated under the buttonwood trees of Wall Street centuries ago to exchange their shares of stock with one another. But now with Web technology the world congregates under a virtual buttonwood tree and the peers use any person, place or thing with the potential to help them make the most of a good financial situation. Be it real-time news or real-time trades the world is learning how to create its own market realities with or without major publishers.

My thanks to the Reuters crew for a wonderful event and to all the alums gathered there who have helped to shape great content through the years. We're only getting better at it - hopefully. Certainly a revived Reuters wants to convince their alumni network that they're on the case.
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