Magazine article Nieman Reports

5 Journalists Must Serve as an Independent Monitor of Power

Magazine article Nieman Reports

5 Journalists Must Serve as an Independent Monitor of Power

Article excerpt

"In 1964, the Pulitzer Prize, the most coveted award in newspapers, went to the Philadelphia Bulletin in a new reporting category ... called Investigative Reporting. ... the journalism establishment was acknowledging a kind of work increasingly done in recent years by a new generation of journalists....

Some old-timers began to grumble. Investigative reporting, they harrumphed, was little more than a two-dollar word for good reporting. In the end, all reporting is investigative. The critics had a point. What the Pulitzer Prize Board formally recognized in 1964 had been, in fact, more than two hundred years in development....

[T]he watchdog principle is being threatened in contemporary journalism by overuse, and by a faux watchdogism aimed more at pandering to audiences than public service. Perhaps even more serious, the watchdog role is threatened by a new kind of corporate conglomeration, which effectively may destroy the independence required of the press to perform their monitoring role....

The watchdog principle means more than simply monitoring government, but extends to all the powerful institutions in society.... As firmly as journalists believe in it, the watchdog principle is often misunderstood.... 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.

The purpose of the watchdog role also extends beyond simply making the management and execution of power transparent, to making known and understood the effects of that power. …

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