The top five reasons why journalists go to Davos

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Time.com has assembled a photo gallery of my Ten Things I Learned at Davos. As I worked on the list on the plane home Sunday, I realized that I really hadn’t learned much at all. I had to do a bit of padding, and recycling from this blog. And now I’m wondering why the heck my employer sent me all the way to Switzerland to learn so little.

It just so happens that Yvette Kantrow was asking the same thing the other day in The Deal (via Romenesko). She wrote:

[I]t’s a bit mind-boggling that journalists, and everyone else for that matter, are so eager to hear the prognostications of the Davos elite–arguably the same group that helped us land in our economic predicament in the first place. Among the media, The Wall Street Journal was one of the few outlets to note that irony: “Of course, most of the Davos crowd got the economy wrong last January–not a great return on the ticket price of Sfr20,000 [$18,090], on top of the 40,000-franc membership fee,” it intoned in a Davos preview story.

The reporting media, of course, doesn’t pay those steep fees, but attending Davos is not cheap. Indeed, the BBC came under fire in British newspapers last year for spending £50,000 ($97,800) to send 37 journalists to the confab. But even in these times of cost cutting, big media remains undeterred in its coverage, with everyone from Forbes to the Journal to the BBC to The Times offering Davos blogs (which compete with the World Economic Forum’s own Davos blog, not to mention its Webcasts, podcasts and vodcasts.)

Readers certainly aren’t clamoring for the latest news from the World Economic Forum. This blog’s regulars seem to have been bored to tears by it. And who can blame them/you? It’s a bunch of people making speeches and participating in panel discussions–the kind of things that are usually ignored by the big papers (and magazines) when they happen in New York or Washington D.C.

So why do journalists travel all the way to Switzerland for the WEF? I have my theories.

1) They’re planting the flag. Davos is an unparalleled gathering place of potential advertisers and potential sources. If your news operation has a significant presence there, that presumably raises its profile among people who matter. This is hard to quantify, but it strikes me as at least a semi-legitimate excuse.

2) They’re getting access to people who normally wouldn’t talk to them. This is especially true for journalists from smaller countries–at Davos they can accost people in the hallways who would never get around to returning their calls in normal life. But it was true for me, too: I had a nice chat with Steve Schwarzman as we waited in line to go through a metal detector, I talked to the Dutch prime minister at a party, I met Sergey Brin at another party. Because I work for Time I could conceivably get to these people through normal channels, but it would take some work. (That I failed to think of anything substantive to ask any of them was my own personal failing, not a shortcoming of Davos.)

3) They’ve got a beat to cover. If most of your sources are going to be in Davos, you might as well be there too. I think that pretty well describes what Floyd Norris, the NYT’s financial columnist, was up to last week. He wasn’t really covering the World Economic Forum; he was just writing piece after piece about the weird stuff going on the financial world last week, while interviewing people in person instead of over the phone.

4) They like being members of a semi-exclusive club. At Davos, journalists–at least the select couple hundred who are deemed “media leaders” and get white badges just like the ones that CEOs and central bank presidents wear–are treated as part of the club. With only a few exceptions, they get invited to the same parties and meetings as everybody else. This is, from the perspective of both readers and media-company shareholders, a totally bogus reason to send journalists to Davos. But for the journalists themselves it’s enormously seductive, and–unlike a couple years ago–a few top bloggers are now being co-opted right along with the MSMers. (So much for the Army of Davids.)

5) They’re looking for a job in a less economically troubled industry. If you’re aiming to change careers, Davos is a pretty great place to lay the groundwork. Not that I’m aiming to change careers. I’m just sayin’ …

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