Who let the Watchdogs Out?


“The watchdog is unlike any other role. For all that is similar to all other journalism, it requires special skills, a special temperament, a special hunger.  It also requires commitment of resources, a desire to cover serious concerns, and a press independent of any interest except that of the ultimate consumer of the news.” —Elements of Journalism

What exactly is watchdog journalism?  It is pretty self explanatory, making the affairs of powerful institutions more transparent to the public.  It is “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.”  Not only do watchdogs keep on eye on what is going on for warnings, but they must praise institutions for the good too, not only the bad.

Journalists are the watchdogs to the public.  Their purpose is to “monitor power and offer voice to the voiceless,” as the book Elements of Journalism statesJust as a watchdog guards their property for intruders or suspicions, as does a journalist protect the public from things they could not see.  Watchdog journalists, like the quote above states, must be dedicated to their job; they must be willing to go to any length to find the news the public needs to know.  It is believed by 9 out of 10 journalists, that the press keeps political leaders from doing things they should not do.  If watchdogs do their job right, the government cannot become corrupt.  This ties into how important journalism is–remember journalism as the fourth estate.

There are 3 types of investigative reporting (Watchdog reporting):

  1. Original Investigative Reporting–Which is the journalist alone, finding something out and letting the public know.  Any good journalism is truly investigative.
  2. Interpretative Investigative Journalism–The journalist put more careful thought into their work and piece the news together to put into context. An example is the Pentagon Papers.
  3. Reporting on Investigating–The news is already out, but then these reporters further report on what is already known. It could be scary because of so much skepticism of the reporter involved.

Looking at these ways to report the news, there is a question that rose from this group’s presentation which was, is it okay to be one-sided?  Is advocacy journalism tolerated?

In my last blog post, I stated how journalists cannot be tied down by restricted laws although they must be ethical.  So now I am going to further support that by saying that journalists can be one-sided. The reason is only because journalists can write about anything as long as the public knows why they are writing in a certain tone or it is made known their view is one-sided.  There must be no secrets in journalism.  After all, that is what communication is all about.

Like everything else that fades over time, the watchdog role is being weakened.  Since there is now a blur between the lines of entertainment and news, that obstructs the watchdog journalism duty.  This is a problem because watchdog journalism is what shaped journalism in the first place!  We must do all we can as future journalists to preserve their original role.  Why does it matter to other people who aren’t future journalists?  I will tell you why.  It is because this is what the people ask for.  Watchdog journalists give people the news they need and desire to know.  Without that role, there is no difference between entertainment and news.


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