"Are newspaper reporters still necessary?"
That provocative question begins an intriguing piece in the Summer 2011 edition of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, but it turns out to be misleading because the answer is actually yes.
Conor Friedersdorf, an associate editor at The Atlantic magazine, declares that
He cites California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. The Bee has collaborated with the center and published some of its work in the last few years. He also mentions Cal Watchdog, the Voice of San Diego and the startup Spot.us in his article, entitled "The New Watchdogs: Can the Web drive investigative journalism in a post-newspaper era?"
He points out that the first report of corruption in the city of
But Friedersdorf ventures onto shakier ground when he suggests that the gap left by downsizing newspapers could be filled by an army of volunteer "civic watchdogs" who "behave more like detectives or auditors than like reporters."
He says an enterprising nonprofit could fund such an operation (including lawyers to sue officials who don't cough up public documents), but he never quite explains who would command it or how to make sure it's not a partisan zealot.
Call me old-fashioned, but what he's talking about is pretty much how the news business has worked for eons. There have always been citizen watchdogs; the Internet just makes it easier for non-journalists to dig up information.
But many times, it still takes the resources and reputation of a newspaper to turn tips into actual stories that have real impact.
The media landscape continues to evolve, but the citizen journalist revolution hasn't happened quite yet. Like it or not, it still takes trained, experienced reporters to do the heavy lifting of muckraking.
To see other suggested readings from The Bee's editorial board, check out Reading Rack in California Forum this Sunday.