The Watchdog Still BarksHow Accountability Reporting Evolved for the Digital Age

The Watchdog Still BarksHow Accountability Reporting Evolved for the Digital Age

Beth Knobel

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780823279333

Publisher: Fordham University Press


Perhaps no other function of a free press is as important as the watchdog role. It is easier for politicians to get away with abusing power, wasting public funds, and making poor decisions if the press is not shining its light with what is termed “accountability reporting.” This need has become especially clear as the American press has come under direct attack for carrying out its watchdog duties. This book presents a study of how this most important form of journalism came of age in the digital era at American newspapers. The book examines the front pages of nine newspapers, located across the United States, for clues on how papers addressed the watchdog role as the advent of the Internet transformed journalism. It shows how papers of varying sizes and ownership structures around the country marshaled resources for accountability reporting despite significant financial and technological challenges. Although the American newspaper industry contracted significantly during the 1990s and 2000s due to the digital transformation, the data collected in this book shows that the papers held fast to the watchdog role. The newspapers all endured budget and staff cuts during the 20 years studied as paid circulation and advertising dropped, but the amount of deep watchdog reporting on their front pages generally increased over this time. The book contains interviews with editors of the newspapers studied, who explain why they are staking their papers' futures on the one thing that American newspapers still do better than any other segment of the media—watchdog and investigative reporting.