Analysis of the Watchdog Role in Journalism

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Chapter 10 of The Press explores the definition, key elements, and importance of Watchdog Journalism. Watchdog Journalism is a concept that has been and currently still is used in public journalism. It is an important foundation for bringing forth news to the public that may otherwise stay hidden.

To begin, journalism has due-diligence to the public to report news that not only matters but affects them either emotionally or physically. Journalists implement the watchdog role in order to bring forth public knowledge.

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Watchdog journalism uncovers truths that businesses, governments, and individuals may be wanting to keep out of the public eye. However, watchdog journalists go in and uncover information so that the public is aware about any scandals or shady activity that these institutions may be involved with. Another element of watchdog journalism is interrogation in the form of questions that trap the corrupted person or institution into uncovering the truth. Journalists ask intrusive and invasive questions in order to expose the individual and their corruption. Watchdog journalism not only keeps the public informed about the back alleys of institution and authorities, it also keeps the wrong-doers in line. If these institutions and authorities fear being exposed as they are either hiding corruption or disposing of evidence, they will less likely do wrong things. Journalism itself proved a platform of knowledge. However, integrating the watchdog role into this equation provides the public with safety in knowing that if there are any negative activities, they will be exposed and displayed for everyone to read about.

Our modern society in America is based upon democracy which means that we as a people have a voice that we can use to speak about the things that are happening around us. Democracy is based upon a public domain in which the people can discuss not only their leaders but also about things that need to change because they are no longer beneficial or because they are harming the people. The watchdog role reinforces the idea of democracy saying that the people have a voice and a right to know what is happening when their backs are turned. It allows the public to be informed about individuals in higher power and have an open discussion about their actions and the relationship to us. Watchdog journalism is especially important to democracy because it proved an open dialogue to an open world where the people are not suppressed or ignorant and can entertain informed discussions about their society.

An interesting comparison was made between freedom of press and the watchdog role. More google results came up for freedom of press (2.5 million) than watchdog role (18,900). Watchdog journalism has a less professional reputation than freedom of press does. Because watchdog journalism is so investigative and intrusive on institutions and officials, journalists in the group are often seen as “blood-thirsty and unconventional in what they find, how they found it, and what they report back to the common collective. Freedom of press is more so a softer way of reporting as specific individuals are not being exposed as drastically in a raw setting as watchdog journalism reports. The difference between just simply reporting and more complex investigative reporting is where the line comes into play. It is a double edge sword in the sense that watchdog journalism is seen as sort of unprofessional for how it is reported in a raw manner. However, it remains necessary to the people of the public domain. So, for journalists, it becomes hard to balance being a professional reporter for a company but also selling the stories that need and want to be heard. The relationship between professional journalism, stories that affect the public, and watchdog journalism needs to be addressed in the sense that reporting findings that affect the public and bringing forth evidence needs to be seen as beneficial rather than harmful and agenda-setting for people in high power.

Watchdog journalism brings forth changes in society, culture, and history. Since watchdog journalism has been around since the start of newspapers, many important issues have been addressed, although gatekeepers try to shut down this branch of journalism along the way due to high standards of scrutiny. Social reforms such as women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and even pedophilia in the Catholic Church by priests all owe dues to watchdog journalism. Because reporters went in with investigative mentality and with the people’s benefit in mind, it opened a dialogue about injustice and started to change the way that people handled problems in society. Changes were all in part of the evidence that was dug up and provided by these journalists. However, the gatekeepers try to keep the investigations and evidence at a minimum by censoring information that opens up debate amongst the public. For example, in 1690, Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurences magazine was shut down for openly criticizing the government. Often, the general media can be portrayed as partisan and leaning more towards protecting officials than openly reporting on malfunctions. When watchdog journalists go deep into the issues, censorship occurs if the public doesn’t grasp and fight quickly enough.

Watchdog journalism provides the foundation for democracy. Not only does it open the discussion about the public and the relationship the common people have with higher institutions, it provides information on what is going on when we aren’t looking. Watchdog journalists have an agenda of seeking the truth and providing the medium for the public to understand concerns and the effects they have on our society. Throughout history, watchdog journalism was sensitive and fragile. Although it is gaining more respect as society grows with wanting more accurate and cutting-edge knowledge, it remains a balancing act for those who report within its boundaries.

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Analysis of the Watchdog Role in Journalism. (2019, Jul 19). Retrieved from