Who will be the watchdog?

Reporters in the 1940 film, His Girl Friday

Reporters in the 1940 film, His Girl Friday

My guilty pleasure is rejoicing in investigative journalism.

What a pity the pleasure isn’t the venerable New York Times or 60 Minutes.

It’s Newsroom: a scripted, created—invented–story of journalism that airs on cable but I have to wait until it arrives on DVD, months later.

What West Wing did for our lay sense of politics, Newsroom does to our sense of, say, Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate, with the potential for revealing political cover-ups and hidden corporate agendas.

Problem is the TV show is fictionalized reality, with the pages swiped from the actual news and then reassembled for viewing audiences.

And only Aaron Sorkin writes like a young David Mamet–no one really sounds as glib as a Sorkin creation.

When I arrived on journalism’s doorstep in the 1970s I wanted to be an investigative reporter.

I believed news truly is the watchdog of government and business. Although my career path shifted—I became a professor instead—I never stopped believing in the cause.

But who will be the watchdogs now that investigative journalism is dying?

News was at its best when a city had two competing daily newspapers, according to journalism researchers.

The pressure to out-report your competitor made reporters strive for the best story and the best photograph.

Despite the inevitable gossip tripe and sensational stories, newspapers did a better job jabbing at the ribs of government than they do today.

So powerful were newspapers at forging social change that the Pulitzer Prize became a badge of honor when journalists uncovered such atrocities as poisons in products from China, abuse of mentally ill patients in state facilities and coverage of school shootings.

And now the flagship paper in Oregon has made its deepest cuts ever, slashing 90 more jobs and cutting back on home delivery to just 4 days a week.

The Oregonian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper, is replacing seasoned journalists with freshly minted multi-media “talents” for their digital product.

My question is: who will be the future watchdogs?

The “talents” sought by The Oregonian are heavily weighted on skills in social media and the web.

Journalism experience is preferred, but not required.

“If you can show us some writing samples that have the wow factor, we want to hear from you!,” exclaims the advertisement.

Wow factor?

I may weep.

[Photo of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, a remake of The Front Page, a 1928 play about reporters.]


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, cinema, ethics, film, framing, His Girl Friday, journalism, news bias, Portland, Pulitzer, Rosalind Rusell, social media, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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