Absolutely. For a media company to be profitable today, it has to find a way to present its information to audiences in different formats based upon how they want to receive it. That’s why the move to digital delivery is inevitable, because at some point we simply aren’t going to be able to deliver the content wrapped in a beautiful, glossy wrapper every month or week.
Would he consider the conference an act of journalism?
I would call the conference a demonstration of journalism can be presented in different formats based on how the people want to receive it. The wonderful thing about this is that if journalism is a two-way street, which I think it is, this gives the audience the opportunity to not only absorb the content, but also participate in it. Now, I don’t think a trade show, for example [the Consumer Electronics Show], is a conference. But this is two and half days where people are going to be able to learn as well as talk amongst themselves, and ask questions, and probe the subject a little more deeply.
The conferences are designed to be private, off-the-record affairs where individuals can trade ideas freely, Brandfon said, but the editorial staff is free to request interviews or other coverage from participants in a fashion similar to The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Eco:nomics. I asked him why Scientific American is getting into the mix with a bunch of primarily business-oriented publications. “We know the following about Scientific American,” he replied. “That some people read it just for the excitement of string theory, and some people read it because they are going to take specific action about what they read and see in the magazine.” Those actions could include a decision to develop a sustainable business platform, make an investment in an emerging technology, or choose an environmentally-friendly policy option.
“It’s fundamental to the editorial mission of the Scientific American brand,” Brandfon said. “Scientific American is a company, not a magazine, and that will become more important and evident as we move forward with conferences and digital delivery and other titles, etc. But in the end, the purpose of the company is really make the world a better and safer place, to make these complex, very difficult challenges, not simple to understand, but easier to deal with-to give us the confidence that we can succeed whether its creating a better environment, or more sustainable energy, or curing malaria in Africa, or protecting privacy at the same time that we’re defending our security.”
If that is the goal then we are indeed in luck, because there is backup. Fortune will launch its first-annual “Brainstorm Green” on Monday and The Economist has already been busy hosting roundtables on corporate sustainability issues. In March, The Economist also sponsored the third “State of the Planet” conference, hosted by The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Or, as Brandfon speculated, the situation could be even better: “I think once the science, public policy, and financial communities manage [environmentally sustainable operations], the business opportunity doesn’t become as urgent. If we’re successful, it will simply be a fundamental, routine way to do business. People will make money. There will be solar energy companies that will be as important as ExxonMobil. The market cap of other green companies will be more than Google. It’s gonna happen.”