Watchdogs at Work

By Leann Frola
(more by author)

Naughton Fellow

Ask any journalist what journalism is really about. Chances are, he or she will mention the word "watchdog."

Keeping the government and powerful corporations in check, most journalists say, is one of the reasons they wanted to go into journalism.

No one fulfills that duty more than the investigative journalist. Yet with the industry's squeeze on costs and time, the beat arguably most sacred to journalism is often the one to feel the pressure.

"I can't think of a time when investigative reporting has faced more pressures than right now," wrote Al Tompkins, a former investigative reporter who now heads the broadcast/online group at Poynter, in a column last week.

Newspapers have cut back staffs, television stations rely less on sweeps periods, and commercial radio rarely does investigative journalism, he wrote.

Yet good investigative journalism continues.

But how exactly has cost-cutting affected investigative journalists' work? How do they start an investigation? Where do they find ideas? What ethical dilemmas do they encounter?

To find out, I interviewed six journalists honored for their investigative work. From different media, market sizes and locations, they each provided perspective on how to produce good investigative journalism despite industry pressures. Click the picture to find out what they had to say.

This project uses several Flash components. If you do not have a current Flash plugin, you can download it here. Click "Get Flash Player."

Just a few of the things you'll learn:

  • Read trade journals. They often "talk behind the public's back." -- Roberta Baskin, investigative reporter
  • Check IRE's Extra!Extra! to read about the latest investigations from journalists all over the country.
  • There are always too many ideas. Weigh public importance, degree of
    difficulty, and timeliness when deciding which ones to pursue.
  • Most of these journalists are in favor of a national shield law.
  • Keep your editor informed. But do some research before you pitch an idea.
  • Use anonymous sources sparingly.
  • The best ideas come from "intense curiosity." -- Stuart Watson, investigative reporter; WCNC-TV

  • Leann Frola

    Leann is a copy editor at The Dallas Morning News. She was a 2006-07 Naughton Fellow for Poynter Online. She graduated in May from Penn State University with a degree in journalism and minors in English and Spanish.


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