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It's Nieman Watchdog's third anniversary

SHOWCASE | May 24, 2007

The most striking changes since we started have been the advance of real reporting online, and, despite some great work, the continuing decline of the traditional news media.

By Barry Sussman

The end of May marks the third anniversary of NiemanWatchdog.org. Our main goal from the start has been to help reporters and editors see to it that people in power provide information the public should have.

In these three years perhaps the most striking and salutary development in the news industry has been the advance of online reporting. Individuals and groups online are breaking stories and staying with them. News organizations of substance are developing on the Internet. The chirping of editorial voices, for so long growing softer, is making a thrilling and loud comeback on the Web.

Meanwhile, the traditional media continue on a downward path for the most part. To their credit, newspapers continue to produce great stories with major impact. The work of recent Pulitzer Prize winners shows stunning imagination, guts and talent on the part of reporters, editors, publishers and owners—work that is on a level with the best reporting ever done in this country. One big problem, however, is that there isn’t enough of it. Another problem, also wrenching, is the odd way owners often celebrate great press triumphs: They point to their achievements like peacocks and then slash newsroom staffs and news-holes.

People tell us we are making a difference. This is hard to measure, of course, but we are gratified by the participation of so many authoritative voices and the encouraging reaction to the information we offer. I can say that we are trying, that we are settling in as one of the new breed of chirpers, and that we're enjoying every minute of it. Our contributors include scholars, journalists and activists. To date, about 160 have taken part, all of them knowledgeable and serious, and almost all doing original writing for the site.

As editor, I report to Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation. Working with me as deputy editor is Dan Froomkin, who also writes the excellent, popular White House Watch column for Washingtonpost.com. Senior advisors to the project are its sponsor, Murrey Marder, a 1950 Nieman fellow and retired Washington Post diplomatic correspondent, and Morton Mintz, a 1964 Nieman fellow who, as a longtime Post reporter was one of the best, most persistent watchdog reporters of the past 50 years.

Toward the end of 2006 we added a blog to our presentation, with a number of journalists offering their take on the news and the news business. We plan to expand the blog in the coming months. We’re also looking ahead to the 2008 elections. We’ll focus on a few issues and, in our usual way, try to encourage reporters and editors to dig into them.

Somebody once said about journalists that it’s not our goal to tell people what to think – only what to think about. Sounds like a great job to us.


The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.