I first met Richard Smith at the Sony Open Forum where his insights on what would happen if we went into Iraq was in hind-sight very accurate. I met Richard again at the Japan dinner at Davos this year. Richard is one of the most balanced, articulate and friendly newsmagazine editors I've ever met and I'm always impressed by his candor and insight.
The panel was really great. It was a very frank discussion on a variety of issues ranging from American politics, the Middle East to Tony Blair. One notable thing was that when I asked about the role of blogs and amateur journalism with a small "j", I think everyone acknowledged their existence and their importance, but probably thought of them still in the context of email feedback, etc. and didn't really "get" blogging. I cornered Richard afterwards and made him promise to spend time with me to let me go through blogging in more detail with him.
One very interesting thing that came up was the issue of the lack of coverage of important issues in "not so important" parts of the world. Richard discussed the difficult job that he has of trying on the one hand to provide news that people were interested in while at the same time trying to report on issues that were important that people did not feel were important to them. There was a discussion about how the further away culturally people were from you, the less likely you would "care" about them. Since most of the readers of Newsweek were in developed nations, Israel obviously "felt" more important to them than say, Africa. Having said that, Newsweek has reported more on Africa than most major US press. Listening to Richard talk about these decisions reminded me of the struggle that all politicians face -- need to gain public support on the one hand, while on the other having the moral obligation to push forward important policies that were either unpopular or seemed unimportant to most people.
Obviously, I believe blogs can play a huge role here and I've decided to learn more about issues in Africa so I can blog about them.