Newspaper journalism in a time of industry change: An evaluation of the current state of the watchdog role of print journalists
Ducey, Marsha A.
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This study examined the state of the watchdog function at daily newspapers in the United States following the elimination of thousands of journalism jobs and massive changes in the industry. The watchdog function is the ideal that the press should hold those in power, particularly government officials, accountable for their actions. Five hundred journalists from the Top 100 circulation daily newspapers were invited to take an internet survey. Results showed that 93.6% of journalists responding (n=94) believed that newspapers overall were good watchdogs for the public, and 77.8% of journalists (n=72) believed they themselves were good watchdogs. However, qualitative responses to survey questions indicated that some journalists were troubled about the state of the watchdog function because they were not able to do as much of that type of journalism as they had in the past. Journalists cited lack of staff and lack of time as the top two issues hurting watchdog journalism. To offer views of how those outside the newspaper industry evaluate watchdog journalism, samples of college students (n=55) and senior citizens (n=38) were also surveyed. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning the best possible job with the watchdog function, college students and seniors rated newspapers' watchdog performance at least one point lower on the scale than journalists did. This study sheds new light on the state of the watchdog function of newspapers specifically in the area of what journalists viewed as the problems hurting the watchdog function and how problems in the industry have impacted them. For example, one journalist stated he was not as aggressive with sources as he had been in the past because the state of the newspaper industry meant he could end up needing a job and working for his sources one day.