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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Watching, really, is the biggest, most important part of watchdog journalism

During my time covering City Council meetings and school board meetings and other public entities, I developed a philosophy about watchdog journalism. 
I came to the understanding that watchdog journalism is more than just writing about perceived wrongs. Perhaps the most common view of watchdog journalism is conducting an investigation, uncovering wrongdoing and writing about it.
This is true and accurate, of course, but there is also a more nuanced version of watchdog journalism that I came to appreciate and practice. This was the act of simply watching.
I learned that it was not always necessary to write a story or an editorial, publicly flaying a public official or excoriating a City Council member whom I deemed to be acting inappropriately.
I found often that my simple presence at a meeting put public officials on notice that whatever they say or do can and may be used against them in a court of public opinion. I also found that simply asking questions was enough to achieve an end result.
After all, what is the purpose of watchdog journalism but to right a wrong, correct an incorrect practice?
There were several incidents in which my simply asking questions led to action without my ever writing a story or editorial. I know there were some in the community who thought I didn’t pick enough fights, that I didn’t write scathing editorials often enough. They hated it when I simply wrote a bland, factual, two-sided story about an issue. Some wanted more shouting, more rants, more of what they thought was watchdog journalism.
But as I learned from my experience, pretty soon people stop listening to a watchdog that is constantly barking.

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