Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Watchdog Journalism

One of the main duties journalists fulfill is that of a watchdog. This is one of the first and most important things I learned in my beginning journalism courses. Journalism is viewed as the fourth branch or entity of the government in addition to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Journalists have the responsibility to find the truth for their audience. This entails asking the tough questions and conducting investigations. We must question those that make influential decisions that will affect society. I liked the quote by comedian Finley Peter Dunne shared in class regarding the purpose of journalism to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." I hadn't heard this before but it makes sense. However, this phrase does aid in the misunderstanding of the watchdog principle. The Committee of Concerned Journalists says, "The concept is deeper and more nuanced than the literal sense of afflicting or comforting would suggest. As history showed us, it more properly means watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny." Here are some examples of the watchdog principle misunderstood. We truly are in this business to help people, to give a voice to the voiceless. We must inform the public when powerful institutions are not performing up to par as well as when they are excelling.

In the end, I feel that all reporting is investigative. It's part of our job description. We must be curious. We must consider other alternatives. There are two sides to every story and we must cover them both. However, there are particular stories and involve more undercover work than others. Some suggest that with the decline of newspapers investigative journalism will cease to exist. An article I read suggests the increase of online-only outfits focused on investigative journalism will prove most successful.

I enjoyed this presentation and class discussion. Personally, I feel that it's essential to have an independent audit for all parties. A balancing check can only help. I have pondered on the thought posed in class, "Can we ever stop being journalists?" I feel that it's extremely difficult to put down the notepad of facts and pick up the hat of advocacy. In relation to social media sites...we do need to watch what we blog about, what we highlight in our Tweets, and what we post as our Facebook status.

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