Watchdog journalism

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The term watchdog journalism is strongly related to the practice of investigative journalism. A watchdog is defined as "a person or group of persons that acts as a protector or guardian against inefficiency, illegal practices, etc." by the Collins English Dictionary.[1] In news journalism, a watchdog journalist also fulfills this function of being a guardian. To perform in an investigative manner, the journalist is in the "role" of a watchdog.[2] Watchdog journalism cannot be defined by the amount of investigation alone, however, but is used in many different contexts. It also is stated "contingent on the existing social, political, and economic conditions and a reflection as much of the historical moment as it is of pre‐existing structures and media cultures".[3] Watchdog journalism can be located in a variety of news media, such as radio, television, Internet, and print media where it may be seen as "a unique strength of newspapers",[4] and additional new media and concepts such as weblogs and citizen journalism. Watchdog journalists also are called "watchmen",[5] "agents of social control", or "moral guardians".[6]

Another term in this context is the "detached watchdog". The concept of the detached watchdog emerged from an extensive study on journalism cultures conducted by communication researcher Hanitzsch and others. The detached watchdog is described as "dedicated to objectivity, neutrality, fairness, and impartiality".[7]

Role[edit]

The role of a watchdog journalist can be that of a protector or guardian. The role of a watchdog journalist as a guardian is to supply the citizens with information they must have "to prevent the abuse of power",[8] and to "warn citizens about those that are doing them harm".[9] In order to conduct their role as a watchdog, journalists need to have a certain distance from the powers and challenge them,[10] as opposed to "propagandist" journalists,[11] who are loyal to the ruling powers and elites. Because of the power distance and its overseeing function, watchdog journalism often officiates as the fourth estate,[12] or is used in the context of that term.[13] The array of topics for watchdog journalism is wide and includes "personal scandals, financial wrongdoing, political corruption, enrichment in public office, and other types of wrongdoing".[14] In order to expose wrongdoings the watchdog aims at "finding hidden evidence".[15] The aforementioned aspects are necessary for the role of the watchdog journalist to help "maintain order" and "warn against disorder".[16]

Detached watchdog journalism is one of the four identified journalism cultures in a study conducted by Hanitzsch et al. comparatively surveying 2100 active journalists world-wide.[17] It exists next to the idea of a journalist as a populist disseminator, critical change agent or opportunist facilitator.[18]

In practice[edit]

Watchdog journalism can lead to the successful resignation of power holders. A well-known example is the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post and the subsequent resignation of U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1974. Another more recent example took place in the Philippines, where president Joseph Estrada was arrested and resigned in 2001. The daily newspaper, Pinoy Times, covered the case of Estrada till "the ouster of Estrada".[19] In a country that guarantees freedom of the press, watchdog journalism can be "a highly effective mechanism of external control on corruption".[20] Yet, the mechanisms of watchdog journalism can also work in countries that abridge freedom of the press. A journalist in authoritarian contexts might not be able to cover all topics, but can still find an important journalistic niche. For example in China where free press is still not established or guaranteed "the notion of the press as watchdogs of power is embedded in the self‐definition of journalists".[21] Here it makes a difference at whom the critique is directed. Journalists are able to criticize power abuse by individuals even when criticism pointed at major state policies is frowned upon and not feasible for established journalists.[22] In free societies "the idea of the media as the eyes and ears" of the public is widely accepted.[23]

"Detached watchdog"[edit]

The term "detached watchdog" was created in the Worlds of Journalism study conducted by Hanitzsch, Lauk, and others between 2007 and 2011. The goal of the study was to create a better understanding of journalism culture and journalistic views. The study detected four global professional milieus of journalists: the populist disseminator, detached watchdog, critical change agent, and the opportunist facilitator.[24] The detached watchdog is an absolutely "detached observer".[25] In addition to the watchdog functions described earlier, the detached watchdog is not interventionist, but uninvolved. In order to achieve that status he has to be objective, neutral, and impartial.[26] Still, because of his watchdog function, he articulates his "skeptical and critical attitude towards the government and business elites".[27] The detached watchdog milieu is accredited as the most prototypical of western journalism.[28] Countries where this milieu predominated at the time of the study were Germany, Austria, USA, Switzerland, and Australia.[29]

Criticism[edit]

The concept of watchdog journalism is not free of criticism. The whole field of watchdog journalism has decreased over time and parts of journalism and in 2005 observers affirmed that the current period was "not a time of rich watchdog reporting in any media".[30] This comes with the framework and the problem that many journalists tend "towards reflecting the status quo, rather than radically challenging it".[31] This decrease, however, cannot lead to the presumption that there are not enough critical topics to write or report about. In fact, the opposite is the case, and there is enough material to work with.[32] While watchdog journalism in the U.S. helped to force Nixon out of office in 1974, the situation presented itself differently in 2003. During the Iraq war part of the established media turned out to take more of a "pro-war attitude",[33] without adequately fulfilling their function of a critical watchdog. Many professionals in the media "appeared to feel that it was not their role to challenge the administration".[34] Critics direct the blame in part to the general public itself, however, since their interest in watchdog journalism is "inconstant and fleeting at times".[35] They also see the role of watchdog journalism as "driven by its own interests rather than by a desire to protect the public interest".[36]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Definition of "watchdog" in the Collins English Dictionary, 2009.
  2. ^ Nieman foundation for Journalism at Harvard, 2012
  3. ^ Coronel 2008, p. 13
  4. ^ Ward 2005
  5. ^ Hanitzsch 2007, p.373
  6. ^ Berger 2000, 84
  7. ^ Hanitzsch 2011, p.481
  8. ^ Marder, 1998, p.20
  9. ^ Coronel, 2008, p. 3
  10. ^ Hanitzsch, 2007, p 373
  11. ^ Pasti 2005, p.95
  12. ^ Hanitzsch 2007, p 373
  13. ^ Berger 2000, p.84
  14. ^ Coronel 2008, p. 2
  15. ^ Overholser & Jamieson 2005, p.170
  16. ^ Gans 1979, p.295
  17. ^ Worlds of Journalism, Pilot Study. http://www.worldsofjournalism.org/pilot.htm
  18. ^ Hanitzsch, T. (2011a). Populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents and opportunist facilitators: Professional milieus, the journalistic field and autonomy in 18 countries. International Communication Gazette, 73(6).
  19. ^ Mojares 2006, p.8
  20. ^ Brunetti & Weder 2003, p.1804
  21. ^ Coronel 2008, p. 1
  22. ^ Yuezhi 2000, p.589
  23. ^ Coronel 2008, p. 2
  24. ^ http://www.worldsofjournalism.org/index.htm
  25. ^ Hanitzsch 2011, p.485
  26. ^ Hanitzsch 2011, p.481
  27. ^ Hanitzsch 2011, p.486
  28. ^ Hanitzsch 2011, p.485
  29. ^ http://www.worldsofjournalism.org
  30. ^ Overholser & Jamieson 2005, p.178
  31. ^ Berger 2000, p.84
  32. ^ Overholser & Jamieson 2005, p.179
  33. ^ Kull / Ramsay / Lewis 2003, p.593
  34. ^ Kull / Ramsay / Lewis 2003, p.593
  35. ^ Coronel 2008, p. 13
  36. ^ Kohut 2001, p.52

References[edit]

  • Berger, G. (2000): Grave New World? Democratic Journalism Enters the Global Twenty-first Century, Journalism Studies, 1:1, 81-99, Rhodes University, South Africa.
  • Brunetti, Weder (2003): Journal of Public Economics 87 (2003) 1801–1824, Mainz.
  • Collins English Dictionary (2009): Watchdog, HarperCollins Publishers New York.
  • Coronel, S. S. (2008): The Media as Watchdog, Harvard.
  • Gans, H. J. (1979). Deciding what’s news: A study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Hanitzsch, Thomas (2007): Deconstructing journalism culture: Towards a universal theory Communication theory 17(4), 367-385.
  • Hanitzsch, T (2011): Populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents, and opportunist facilitators: Professional milieus, the journalistic field and autonomy in 18 countries, International Communication Gazette 73(6), 477–494.
  • Kohut, A. (2001): Public Support for the Watchdog Is Fading. Colombia Journalism Review, New York.
  • Marder, M. (1999): Journalism - This Is Watchdog Journalism. In Nieman reports (53) Cambridge, Mass.
  • Marder, M. (1998): Watchdog Journalism - Arrogance Wins? In Nieman reports (52) Cambridge, Mass.
  • Mojares, R. B.(2006): Biography Eugenia Duran Apostol, Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation.
  • Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard (2012): Investigative Journalism: Being a Watchdog, Getting Paid, Cambridge. http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/professor.aspx?id=100016
  • Overholser, G. & Jamieson,K.H. (2005): The press, Oxford University Press 2005.
  • Pasti, S. (2005): Two generations of contemporary Russian journalists. European Journal of Communication, 20(1), 89–115.
  • Ward, B (2005): Watchdog Culture: Why You Need it, How You Can Build it. In Poynter.org St. Petersburg, FL. http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/leadership-management/what-great-bosses-know/67742/watchdog-culture-why-you-need-it-how-you-can-build-it/
  • worldsofjournalism.org http://www.worldsofjournalism.org/pilot.htm
  • Yuezhi, Z. (2000): Watchdogs on Party Leashes? Contexts and implications of investigative journalism in post-Deng China, Journalism Studies, 1:4, 577-597.

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