Dispatch from Davos 4: Digital Journalism–More than a Drop in the Bucket

At a session last week titled “From Tabloid to Tablet,” we heard perspectives on the turbulent world of journalism from leaders of Google, Thompson Reuters, the Financial Times, Business Insider and Al Arabiya, among others.

Most interesting to me was the advice to fellow journalists from Jeff Jarvis, former big-time editor, best-selling author, creator of BuzzMachine and all-around provocateur.

Both in the session and in a private conversation after, Jeff asserted that “Journalists are not in the content business. Content fills things up (like a bucket). We are performing a service. We need to re-think our role. We need to stop focusing on mass communications and start building relationships at the individual level. We need to achieve relevance by adding value to the flow of information and the conversation already out there. We need to vet the facts, debunk rumors, point people to information and add value as professionals in a different way.” For more from Jeff on this topic, see this recent BuzzMachine post.

In our business, we love to say we create content. Following Jeff’s lead, I think it’s better to think of our role as performing a service that connects with individuals and communities, adds value and is relevant.

At the session, there was also talk about the various incentive models emerging for online journalists and content creators. The models seem to fall into three buckets. Some are only incentivized to deliver premium-quality reporting. Some are heavily incentivized to maximize views and links. Others are trying to balance both.

My own view is that, if a site’s incentive model falls into either of the last two buckets (incentives for volume of attention), it should be disclosed on the site. Just as we must disclose that we work for a certain client, this will make it transparent to the reader what motivates the source.

Rob Flaherty is Chairman of Ketchum, the global communications consultancy with 130 offices and affiliates worldwide. He is on the board of the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the advisory board of Room to Read, which focuses on literacy and girls education in developing nations. Follow Rob on Twitter at @flahertyrob.