It is well known that one of the media’s main purposes is to keep our government in check. As the trite saying goes, journalists are the “watchdogs” of Washington. However, according to Jodi Enda in Capital Flight, “Watchdog reporting is at an alarming low at many federal agencies and departments whose actions have a huge impact on the lives of American citizens.” So why is this? Where are the watchdogs? What happened to our journalistic priorities? I believe they have adapted to a reflection of our society.
The news industry is just as its name suggests – an industry. Thus, just like any other industry, it has to rely on supply, demand, and profit. There is an overwhelming supply of stories for a journalist to cover, and yet, so few to choose from. I currently intern with a local news station, and there have been multiple instances where I’ve seen an interesting story discarded or moved back to a different block because it didn’t meet certain, unspoken credentials. A reporter once told me that you need to take a story, make it relevant, and dumb it down so the viewers don’t lose interest. With this in mind, it is quite clear why journalists would disregard consistent coverage of departments, agencies, and bureaus – the core of our federal government.
According to Enda, coverage of such stories would be “unsexy”. Why would viewers want to learn about the progress, or lack thereof, of a complex agency over a “sex scandal on the hill or some intelligence screwup”? This is why many journalists flock to the same news stories. I see it at my internship every day, where many stations are all on the same scene. The watchdogs are still there; they have just moved their posts to more popular areas. This, unfortunately, has become the nature of the business. Just like the Toyota scandal, the public is often not brought to the attention of corrupt corporate schemes until it’s “too late, or not at all.”