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What We Didn't Learn At The Future Of Business Media Conference

On Tuesday, we found ourselves wandering in and out of the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria. It was the annual Future of Business Media conference, but something annoying kept happening: business news was breaking. Merrill Lynch was, ahem, accepting Stan O'Neal's, uhm, retirement.
After writing about nothing else for days on end, we suddenly found ourselves cut-off from the information flow. We half-suspected Merrill Lynch had decided to get back at the media, which has played no small role in highlighting the troubles at the firm, making this move during the conference. Rationally, we know that's not true but our paranoid imagination is rarely constrained by rationality.
We looked around the room. It is called the Grand Ballroom but there was nothing grand about it on Tuesday morning. Long rows of tables, more seats empty than filled, jugs of tinny water. We scribbled on a pad of paper, "I see bored people." Media poo-bahs we were meant to recognize but didn't were talking about the future and the business and the media. We decided to leave the conference altogether in favor of some early afternoon drinks and intelligence gathering down at PJ Clarke's.
It was a crisp day down at the edge of the Hudson river. Wind blew across the water and chilled our ribs as we sat down at the outdoor tables with some Merrillistas. No-one was in the mood for food at Clarke's. It was drinks all around. And then another round, all around. There was a conspiratorial air in the, uhm, air. [Editor's note: "Air in the air." Really? That's the best you could do? JC: Yeah. Sorry.] The top man was out and it was clear that the battle to replace him had only just begun.
By the time we returned to the conference we had missed the lunch where Neil Cavuto derided the elitist obscurantism of that other business network. The food was all gone, save for some inedible granola bars and brownies. We completely lack a sweet tooth, so why bother? We tried to sober up from our liquid lunch by drinking coffee while we got the story on the lunch from Portfolio's Sam Gustin.

"I don't believe that business news has to appeal only to the pedigreed few," Cavuto said, adding that if viewers want to know "the price of tin in Malaysia," they can go to CNBC.

The panel we most wanted to hear was the final one of the afternoon, about the "disruptors" of business media. You know the type: the bloggers and other webby folk who don't obey most of the rules that have traditionally made business news boring. And what we most wanted to know is why no-one asked us to be on that panel. Most particularly, is there anyone working in business media more, uhm, disruptive than Bess Levin?
Unfortunately, we wound up missing that panel. So we will never know why no-one asked Bess to the dance. Our friend Cody Willard asked us to do a spot on his new Fox Business Network show, Happy Hour. It's filmed inside the Bull & Bear bar and is pretty much our kind of show. Of course we agreed but what would we be talking about? "Since you're at the conference, you can talk about the future of business media." Cody suggested. We didn't have the heart to tell him we had missed most of the conference in order to actually commit business media rather than just have people tell us about it.
At the last minute, we got bumped off Fox. Apparently they decided to talk about actual news rather than just the future of news. So we were in the Bull and Bear, with a Hendrick's martini or two...okay, maybe three but we barely touched the fourth one...watching the show rather than being on it. This, we decided, was probably a lot more fun anyway. And was pretty much the same thing as being at a conference about media, except with a better place to sit because bars are always preferable to conference rooms.
Our phone buzzed with a couple of text messages. It was Joe Dub from Opening Bell. The conference cocktail hour was starting and he wanted us to drop by. Gustin was there too. There was a chance that the cute girl from CNET was going to show up. Larry Kudlow was talking at the University Club. We were invited to the cocktail hour but not the dinner. More drinking, still no food. We felt like business media was trying to get us drunk, and like the best kind of cheap date, we didn't mind. It was going to be an exciting night.
Gustin, who seems to have a much more attentive day at the conference than we did, totally let us borrow his notes. So if you want to catch-up and the future of business media today, check out his report in Portfolio.
And we promise, next time we go to one of these things, we'll try to pay attention to learn about the future of business media rather just trying to be the future of business media.
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