East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists

March 1, 2008

Keeping the “watchdog” alive

Filed under: Blogroll — etspj @ 12:45 pm

February 2008

In January, I wrote a series for The Oak Ridger on the compensations earned by leaders of local nonprofit organizations. I was surprised at how many people told me they enjoyed the series; I probably got more feedback from that one series than I had from my previous two years worth of stories combined.


While the series itself might not have been groundbreaking, I did learn a lesson from talking to readers about it. The lesson is: People have a hunger for investigative reporting. They have ideas about issues they think journalists ought to look into. They want us to hold governments and other groups accountable. And they want reporters to dig deeper to find new information, going beyond press conferences, meetings and speeches.


Those of you who live in Knox County already know this. Last year, residents in your county overwhelmingly supported the media’s efforts to expose government wrongdoing.


Unfortunately, though, some people think this kind of reporting will be harder to do as industry layoffs and hiring freezes continue, and staff sizes shrink. Less reporting could mean that citizens would know less about their governments, businesses and other organizations. That could have a profound impact on our democracy and way of life.

But I’m not ready to give up just yet. I am hopeful that determined reporters will continue to do some in-depth reporting, even when they are under pressure to produce daily stories. I know it’s not easy, but I think well-trained reporters can do it.

That’s why I’ve proposed a training session for “watchdog” reporters at the SPJ National Convention in Atlanta later this year. A session like this was one of the highlights for me at the 2007 convention in Washington, D.C.

Of course, there are other ways to keep alive this type of reporting. I am encouraged by some of the nonprofit media groups that have sprung up across the country and are emphasizing the importance of investigative journalism, from voicesofsandiego.org to Pro Publica.

Please let me know if you have ideas or inspirational stories about how to improve watchdog journalism. I serve on SPJ’s national Project Watchdog Committee and can share your ideas or stories with other journalists across the country.

Our readers and viewers are counting on us.

John Huotari is the city hall reporter at The Oak Ridger. He can be reached by phone at (865) 220-5533 or by e-mail at john.huotari@oakridger.com.


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