Watchdog journalism

When we talk about how journalism can serve the public and better democracy, investigative reporting’s one of the first things that comes to mind. I think Kovach and Rosenstiel brought up a lot of great points about it in this chapter.

(Most memorable point: I never understood the IRE/ire connection until I read this, and I used to volunteer there. Oops.)

By now, you all have probably figured out that one of my main media concerns is how it’s going to continue to be sustainable financially, so I especially appreciated the discussion about reporting resources and how many legacy media outlets simply don’t have the time, money or extra reporters to invest in this kind of important work. When they do, though, the results are great: Judy Thomas’ investigative pieces for The Kansas City Star are good examples. I wonder what local investigative reporting will look like in five, 10, even 20 years — whether diminishing newsroom staffs and budgets will still be able to allow for this kind of reporting. I sure hope they do; ProPublica and co. are great and all, but they can’t cover everything, and they might not be able to immediately see an issue that a city newspaper does.

I also agree that the terms “watchdog” and “investigative” have lost some of their power because of what they’re sometimes used to describe (e.g., “just add water” investigative reporting or dramatized stories about everyday circumstances). I’ll be honest: When I see those terms on broadcast channels, my expectations aren’t high, and the actual reports turn out to be anticlimactic after all of the audio-visual hype. (However, it could also be a matter of how I perceive the brand/medium because I have very high expectations for investigations completed by the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.) I know this would be pretty difficult to create and judge, but I wonder if there could be a more concrete definition for what constitutes a true “investigative” story. For example, the topic and investigative process would have to meet certain requirements. Just a thought.

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