The death of the watchdog press?

It was probably because I wanted to give purpose to all the hours of my life spent waiting for school boards to return from executive sessions, but I always took pride in the watchdog duties of being a newspaper reporter. It’s a key to democracy. But, the moments where I got to ring the Liberty Bell were few and far between. Unless you’re burning up on the new wrestling coach, why would you put yourself through those torturous hours instead of catching up on the results show of Dancing With The Stars? Because you’re paid to be there.

Local communities need reporters paid to sit through these meetings. Reporters provide the obvious service of condensing two hours of sitting into 500 understandable words on the status of teacher labor contract negotiations. They also, I believe, curb the temptation to circumvent sunshine laws and open records regulations.

That’s why I’m so concerned that Jay Rosen of New York Times thinks the success of Wikileaks is built on the failure of traditional media.

“The watchdog press they treasure so much died,” Rosen said in his latest video blog. “Mostly what our journalists did, with a few exceptions is they just went on to the next story. The watchdog press died and what we have is Wikileaks instead.”

Journalism schools filled to capacity with students eager to expose corruption after Watergate. Today’s students are eager to enter the field so they can write about travel and fashion. How do we restore the nobility of questioning the mayors of towns of 100,000?How do we find people who will keep our government honest? How do we steer the bright and curious into newsrooms instead of law offices?

How do we make sure we’ve got people who care enough to write more than a brief after the next Sunday night burglary at a D.C. office building?


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