Faces trump finance at summit

LONDON — The G-20 summit here this week has garnered unprecedented media attention. That’s not surprising, given that the financial crisis heightens interest in the policy-strategy meetings. But, judging by the global media, such topics took a back seat to the personalities involved.

President Obama’s first return to Europe since his triumphant magical mystery tour last summer — this time with first lady Michelle Obama — ensured that tabloid-like interest in the normally dry economic forum was high even among the higher-brow media outlets.

Popular Brit tabloid the Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., dedicated two pages of coverage to the first couple’s gift of an iPod to the queen, plus generous ink to Michelle Obama’s numerous fashion statements.

In a sign of the changing times, all major broadcasters here — including the BBC — relied heavily on new-media platforms to get the news to their auds.

Sky News, another part of Murdoch’s global media empire, rolled out its highest-tech resources to cover simultaneously the summit itself as well as the large protests in London’s financial district. The newscaster had four reporters on the ground at the anti-globalization demonstrations — which left one person dead and saw normally suited bankers dressed down in jeans and T-shirts to avoid detection by angry marchers — to deliver minute-by-minute Twitter updates.

“Downing Street was using our Twitter reports because they were more up to date than the TV images,” said Sky News exec editor Chris Birkett. “Even though the protests weren’t as big as we expected, it was still extraordinary to see the City brought to a standstill.”

Sky’s Twitter feeds on its website received 137,000 visitors in one day alone. The channel also employed a news boat on the river Thames to stay in touch with events.

Even though the demonstrations never broke out into the widespread violence initially feared, media orgs still found plenty of color stories from the meeting of leaders of the free and not-so-free world.

French prexy Nicolas Sarkozy’s pre-summit threats to walk out if his regulatory demands were not met, his subsequent saber-rattling press confab with German preem Angela Merkel and even Brazilian prexy Lula de Silva meeting up with his peers for the first time since blaming the global recession on “people that are white and blue-eyed” gave the traveling press pack plenty to feed on throughout the two-day confab.

The summit closed Thursday evening with the announcement that the world’s largest economies had agreed on a framework for a $1.1 trillion deal to get the world’s economy back on its feet.

“This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession,” said British P.M. Gordon Brown, somewhat disconcertingly lifting Bill Pullman’s rallying cry from “Independence Day.”

And while the sheer scale of the global economic meltdown played a large part in the unprecedented media focus on the summit — event organizers opted for a vast East London conference center as much to accommodate the huge number of visiting journos as for security concerns — there was no denying the pulling power of Barack Obama.

In the end it was fitting that the last word went to the U.S. prexy during a mammoth Thursday evening press conference as Obama alternated serious responses with light-hearted teasing of the assembled press contingent.

“We’re not bidding here,” quipped Obama as the hundreds of journos from around the world clamored like eager students with arms aloft to get his attention.

“This is a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery,” said Obama. “This is not a panacea, but it lays the foundation.”

That he left the auditorium after an hour to the sound of applause was a measure of just how much the normally cynical press pack wanted to believe him.

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