Why Davos? Why Journalism?

What is the difference between covering the news and uncovering the news? Lacking inspiration or vision, some journalists see their job as little more than stenography. If that is the limit of a reporter’s ambition, any money spent on that reporter is a wasteful investment, whether spent keeping a chair warm in the newsroom or spent sending the reporter to a resort town in the Swiss Alps.

The World Economic Forum ended Sunday in Davos and there were about 500 reporters covering 2,500 participants. More ambitious writers who were lucky enough to be among the 500 were able to uncover some stories. One of the most important came from a blogger, Robert Scoble, who publishes at Scobleizer.com.

A basic job for journalists is to represent readers and ask decision makers questions that fire the readers’ curiosity. Scoble found Mark Zuckerberg at Davos and asked the question that is one of the biggest worries of many Facebook users: what will happen to Scrabulous? From the blog:

He talked to me about his love of Scrabulous and was hopeful that a good
resolution will come. Hasbro has been threatening the two developers of
Scrabulous. I told Zuckerberg that it was clear that Hasbro had a case that its
intellectual property was being infringed on (Scrabulous is an online version of
Hasbro’s Scrabble, which pretty clearly infringes on copyrights and trademarks
of Hasbro’s). Zuckerberg agreed that that was the case, but told me that Hasbro
does see the value in getting a new online community built on its behalf. He
thinks there may be an acquisition or other good outcome to the dispute.

That’s reporting. The writer went directly to a top decision maker and uncovered — for the first time on record — his views on an issue that is important to readers. How important is it? You have to live with a Scrabble-playing Facebook user to know for sure. If you aren’t in that situation, trust me: it’s very important.

Sure, there will always be VIP’s making more-or-less obvious points. Reporters who devote much of their workday to reporting those points are wasting money, whether they stay home or go to conferences.

The people I was with at Davos worked hard to do what they try to do as reporters where ever they are working — learn something new and tell it in a compelling and relevant way. We may not have always succeeded, but there were plenty of revealing moments at Davos, moments that gave us a chance to write about some larger-than-life figures in human ways.

Those stories help make any reporting venture worthwhile. The primary satisfaction, though, came from stories that exposed uncomfortable truths. I’ve always been attracted to the journalistic goal of uncovering the news, or at the very least, of asking those in power the questions on the minds of those who lack power.

If people are willing to face police beatings and tear gas to ask some questions in Pakistan, can’t we, as journalists, give voice to those questions when we are face to face with Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf?

Given the opportunity, we at Forbes.com tried to make the most of it. We asked President Musharraf if he was going to release the judges after election day. We didn’t get much of an answer, but we were able to make sure that he heard the question.

Isn’t that worth the price of a plane ticket?

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