Watchdog journalism puts the spotlight on wrongdoing and injustices with the expectation that they will cause public outrage and prompt legislative and judicial action. By doing so, it serves democratic goals of accountability, honesty, truth‐telling, and transparency.
Waisbord, S. (2016). Watchdog Journalism. In The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication, G. Mazzoleni (Ed.).
Reporting that sets out to discover something that somebody, somewhere, wishes to remain a secret, and that typically involves detailed and time-consuming work by an individual journalist or by a team of journalists inquiring into some kind of alleged wrongdoing. Methods associated with investigative journalism typically include meticulous searching and cross-referencing of documents and databases in the public domain; use of freedom of information laws to place more material in the public domain; receiving leaks of secret information; persuading people to talk either on or off the record; and, less typically, secret filming and/or recording, and using subterfuge to obtain evidence of wrongdoing. The targets of such investigations can range from corrupt politicians and business people misusing or misappropriating public money on an international scale to local landlords or builders taking shortcuts and thereby risking the lives of workers, customers, or the general public. Alleged miscarriages of justice have been another popular subject for investigative journalists to probe, as have arms deals and alleged war crimes. At the tabloid end of the market, investigative journalism often focuses more on exposing the alleged hypocrisy of celebrities and so-called ‘role models’ by revealing their sexual behaviour and/or drug habits (see fake sheikh).
Classic examples of sustained investigative journalism include Watergate in the USA and the Thalidomide scandal in the UK, the latter being a product of the celebrated Insight team at the Sunday Times under editor Harold Evans. Such investigative journalism is often said to have begun in 1885 when William Stead (1849–1912), editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, exposed the scandal of child prostitution in Victorian England by ‘buying’ a 13-year-old girl for £5.
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