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« I'm cynical about cynicism | Main | The exponential present »

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


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Responding to some Twitter criticism.

Point No. 1: I figure Job 1 is making money; Job No. 2 is covering whatever happens (which isn't a watchdog function, btw); and Job No. 3 is being entertaining (which might sometimes be combined with Watchdogging, but usually isn't.

Point No. 2: I was an assigning editor for about 12 years, and very rarely did my newspapers take on any important investigative piece in which the original research had not been conducted by a nonprofit, a government agency, a law enforcement agency, an attorney or some individual who pitched the story based on their own experience or studies.

Point No. 4: OK, I'm being flip here ... up to a point. Note the qualifiers: "truly investigative, power-challenging, applecart-upsetting, potentially unpopular stories." The trend that I see are "investigative" stories that simply repeats of safe, popular, award-winning stories from other states. And I don't count such blather for these purposes.

Based on the conversations I've had with pro-jos at small metros over the years, the investigative/special projects budgets at most papers are tiny. And since much of what these budgets produce is either trivia or mild contest fodder, I don't count that as true watchdogging in the spirit that newspapers are claiming as their social contribution.

Howard Weaver is certainly right about one thing: My experience is anything but illustrious.


Dan, well done.

I tend to categorize the (many) journalistic scandals over my lifetime into:

1. We failed to catch/see that coming.
2. Two wrongs don't make a right.
3. We publicly persecuted the wrong (person/organization).

The first is the least egregious of the three and the last the most.

I know you qualified it in this quote, "paper's supposedly sacred First Amendment duty to watchdog the government," but I also consider that a myth that hurts journalists' credibility with the public.

If you want to be a watchdog journalist, that's a great public service. It is not an institutional or professional "First Amendment" duty.

Paul Murray
paper's supposedly sacred First Amendment duty to watchdog the government

LOL. The first amendment adresses freedom of the press. That freedom is much like the freedom to bear arms: it concerns every individual's right to own and run a printing press, to publish their opinions.

The traditional media has done a magnificent orwelian take on this, calling themselves "The Press" and implying that that first amendment is about those coroprations that call themselves that. This would be much like my setting up a comapny, naming it "The Right to Bear Arms", and insisting that - by the US constitution - the operations of that company may not be "infringed".

The fredom of the press is everyone's right to try to make their opinions known. Your constitution does not grant special status to news organisations at all. If anything: news organisations, not being natural persons, arguably do not have the rights granted by the US bill of Rights.

People are reclaiming the press from the corporations that have monopolised them for over a century. The days of the privately published political leaflet, that formed your country and your freedoms ("Common Sense", anyone?), and which have informed the freedoms of the rest of the world, are back. With a vengeance.


Love this comment, Paul. It's a perspective I haven't seen anywhere else.


"like the freedom to bear arms"

Imagine Dan's reaction if law enforcement claimed they had a Second Amendment "duty" to draw their weapons on suspects and use deadly force.


Who's watching the Watchdogs?

No one. And journalists mocked those who tried.

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