Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Journalist: Watchdogs That Bark

Raquel Devariel

Journalism is a profession that grows and changes with society. As journalists, our roles are to adjust to the different media outlets that emerge on a day-to-day basis. Adapting to these changes makes the job challenging.

As we learn that with the click of a button and only 140 characters we can change or disrupt the lives of others, it is our responsibility to deliver accurate and precise information. Access to different forums allows not only journalists to express ideas and share content, but also allows the general public to become part of the conversation.

This shift in the industry has opened the doors to immediate interactions, but most importantly, it encourages us to act as watchdogs.

As explained by Shane Eisenman in his article Watchdog Journalism: Function and Future, “The practice of this function, called watchdog journalism, is a style of writing or broadcast aimed at identifying a current societal problem, either hidden or overt, and offering opinion on necessary action.  This style is intended to incite the readers into taking direct steps to change the agents or factors controlling the situation or issue.”

A great example of how journalists exercise this principle is the Jayson Blair scandal.

Blair was a journalist who started out as an intern and was sent out to the field to report on a mass murder that had occurred in Washington at the time. His articles kept making the tabloids and were often featured in the front page.

Not being seen on the field or in the newsroom, his colleagues and others from the industry began to wonder where Blair was getting these amazing stories that kept getting featured.

Following their instincts and acting as watchdogs led to unbelievable discoveries. It came to light that Blair was never in the field, and that he was plagiarizing stories that had already been written.

When action wasn’t taken for all that was happening, employees began to take advantage of technology and posted complaints that had been ignored on the Internet. This tactic led to the outcome that the industry was expecting, those who were involved got removed from their positions. Using the Web was effective.

“Along with others, they realized that the Web had assumed an important role in opening new channels through which values and standards could be questions and judged by the larger community, which depends on the integrity of the press,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel expressed in chapter 10 of “The Elements of Journalism”.

Without acting as watchdog journalists, Blair might had got away with his wrong doings.

However, the failure of this tactic often goes unnoticed which can lead to unwanted consequences like the financial collapse, explains Dean Starkman in his book “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark.”

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In the introduction of the book, Stakrman explains what happens when journalism watchdogs fail to bark saying, “What happens is the public is left in the dark about and powerless against complex problems that overtake important national institutions.”

It is with cases like these ones we learn that it is our duty as journalists to be watchdogs that bark using the tools that technology has provided for us.

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