Bono and Sachs blog the UN

Bono is a rock star musician. Jeffrey Sachs is a rock star economist. Both are also leaders of international campaigns to improve the living conditions of the world’s poorest people. Their work and the stories behind it should warrant front page coverage by the world’s mass media every day, everywhere. But it doesn’t.

This week Bono and Sachs took a small hand-in-hand step toward a new way of thinking about media as something that they control and produce themselves.

Bono and Sachs became bloggers.

OK, not real bloggers. They became guest bloggers for a big media institution. Bono and Sachs were in New York this week covering the United Nations Millenium Goals conference in a blog for London’s Financial Times.

Read their posts and you can see clearly how people with passion and purpose can produce journalism that stands out from the routine, gutless reporting we’ve been indoctrinated to view as normal and right.

Bono, most famous as lead singer of the band U2, is also founder of the One Campaign, which seeks to persuade the world’s richest countries to increase aid and forgive the debts of the poorest. Five years ago I heard him speak at a World Association of Newspapers Congress in Dublin, where he bluntly acknowledged the influence of the world’s press and urged it to become active in his campaign to reduce AIDS in Africa. He spoke then of the press in traditional terms – something with enormous influence and through which he could get his message to more people.

Which story is bigger: Bailout for banks, or aid for the poor?

Sachs, head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is the principal architect and former director of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. That’s a set of eight benchmarks that 189 nations have agreed to achieve by 2015, such as reducing malaria and other infectious diseases, and cutting in half what Sachs calls “extreme poverty.” He means by that the most crippling, severe poverty on the planet – the kind that kills newborns and infants every day.

Sachs participated via satellite in our We Media London conference in 2006, where, besides deftly rebutting a critic, he encouraged a British high school student to learn from the mistakes of her school’s effort to deliver computers to a community in Ghana. It was, for me, the most important, spine-tingling and satisfying five minutes of any meeting I have ever organized or attended. One of the world’s most passionate and powerful advocates for making the world better for more people offered practical and thoughtful advice to a young woman who believed she and her friends could make a difference.

This is undoubtedly a tough week to convince world leaders to talk about aid and investment in the world’s poor countries. The world’s rich are busy figuring out how to solve their own financial mess. But the contrasts between the two conversations is striking.

“The very banks being bailed out so generously had awarded themselves more than $30 billion in bonuses early this year, roughly the world’s entire aid budget for 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa,” Sachs writes in his FT blog.

Sachs is both a tough reporter and a powerful advocate for his view that tactics have been tested and proven capable of drastically reducing extreme poverty worldwide – and that the world’s richest nations have the means to pay for such programs.

Here’s his scathing report of President Bush’s speech at the UN:

President Bush’s speech before the United Nations was literally terrifying. He mentioned “terror” (or “terrorists” or “terrorism”) 32 times, “extremists” 7 times, and “tyranny” 4 times. “Millennium Development Goals, “climate change,” and “environment,” did not merit a single reference. “Disease” got 3 mentions, while “poverty” and “education’ each got 2. “Health” got 1. … It is this relentless disregard for the concerns of the rest of the world that has sent the U.S. into its biggest tailspin in modern history. The U.S. stands alone, diplomatically, financially, and politically. Or more accurately, the world feels the brunt of U.S. neglect, whether its neglect of poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation, or financial market regulation.

Bono, on the other hand, provides an equally riveting version of events through impressionistic language reflecting street scenes in New York and high-minded goals all at once:

As the sun arcs over the Manhattan skyline and the markets start dancing nervously out of time, the lyrics I’ve been scribbling over breakfast have been removed and replaced by spreadsheets with large numbers in tiny font as we wrestle with EU budgets in advance of meetings later today with Presidents Sarkozy and Barroso. It’s hard to fight for increases in aid at times like this – but that’s what I’m here for this week… stick with me, while myself and others make our case that now is precisely the time to invest in the world’s poor.

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