Redefining a Newspaper's Watchdog Approach: At the Oregonian, a New Training Program for Reporters Focuses on Investigative Skills Needed by Specific Reporters for Their Daily Beats

By Zaitz, Les; Walth, Brent | Nieman Reports, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Redefining a Newspaper's Watchdog Approach: At the Oregonian, a New Training Program for Reporters Focuses on Investigative Skills Needed by Specific Reporters for Their Daily Beats


Zaitz, Les, Walth, Brent, Nieman Reports


On a soggy December morning, a hillside above a busy Oregon highway gave way, and a torrent of mud, rock and trees buried the road, destroyed homes, and smashed cars. Our newspaper, The Oregonian, dutifully reported on the landslide and its immediate effects. One reporter then went further.

Michael Milstein, who covers natural resources, soon told readers that a state forestry college had clear-cut trees above the site. Engineers surmised the clear-cut set the stage for the slide.

Milstein showed readers that the newspaper was willing to probe beyond the headline of the moment and shine a light on those in authority who were accountable.

That's watchdog reporting.

This kind of journalism remains a fundamental duty of a free press. In today's unsettled news environment, watchdog reporting also is necessary for our survival. It sets professional journalists apart from bloggers and cell phone videographers, providing added value that readers and viewers simply can't get anywhere else. Readers and viewers respond to watchdog stories, and we believe the stories build loyalty by helping keep journalism viable and relevant.

But reporters and editors face a growing challenge to their ability to produce watchdog reporting. It's a matter of math. Fewer reporters keeping an eye on public and private institutions means diminished chances for discoveries such as Milstein's.

At The Oregonian, we want to improve those chances. The newspaper's editors targeted watchdog reporting as one emphasis to help sustain Oregon's largest daily newspaper, both in print and online. The newspaper has a reputation for aggressive reporting. Yet many of us within the newspaper believed we weren't doing enough watchdog work. It wasn't for a lack of trying. As veteran investigative reporters, we had conducted a lot of in-house seminars over the years to teach fundamentals of watchdog reporting. The newspaper had also invested plenty of money to send journalists to conferences around the country.

But money for travel and conferences is disappearing from newsroom budgets, and freeing up reporters to attend training is ever more difficult. Despite the hunger and enthusiasm for our training sessions, we were never sure how much good we had done. Reporters rushed out of our training sessions all charged up about watchdog reporting, but what we preached didn't seem to stick.

When we explored why, we discovered a few important reasons:

* For starters, people had different ideas of what we meant by watchdog reporting; a lot of folks thought it had to mean big, eye-popping projects, but few had the time to tackle them.

* We also found some editors and reporters lacked a shared understanding of what it took to find these stories. Despite the talk from editors, reporters were under no pressure--and often saw too little encouragement--to do more watchdog reporting and were too often on their own to deploy whatever lesson they had learned.

* Watchdog reporting isn't something you do once in awhile; it requires a continuous effort. Our short bursts of training weren't enough for real change to endure.

How Training Works

So we sought a new idea--one mindful of cost, staff time, and effectiveness. We think we hit that trifecta with our current offer of a one-on-one coaching program of about 10 weeks to any reporter who wanted to take part. We figured five or six reporters would sign up. About 20 applied. The enthusiasm was so high for the idea that one reporter tracked us down to take part after just hearing a rumor about such a program.

We had a diverse pool apply--from suburban police reporters to seasoned veterans. In brief notes, they explained why they wanted in. A political reporter wanted help being tougher in interviews. A business reporter wanted help on pushing routine stories into watchdog stories. A transportation reporter wanted fresh skills to more closely examine state and regional agencies. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Redefining a Newspaper's Watchdog Approach: At the Oregonian, a New Training Program for Reporters Focuses on Investigative Skills Needed by Specific Reporters for Their Daily Beats
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.