The following is Steven Greenhut’s response to “‘Serious, point-of-view journalism’?,” a Columbia Journalism Review article about Watchdog.org. CJR declined to print the response, but instead asked us to post it in its comments section. CJR’s reporter did not contact Watchdog.org or the Franklin Center (Watchdog’s parent organization) for a comment before publishing its story.
By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center
I appreciate the fact that the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) took the time to assess the role of Watchdog.org in helping fill the gap in state-based and investigative news coverage created by departing daily newspapers and media organizations. Thanks for the engaging article.
While your reporter had sport with a couple of our light-hearted story examples — one from a young staff writer toting a whiteboard at the Democratic convention, in a Daily Show-like effort to get some fun interviews for a blog — had he contacted us, we would have directed him to the kind of serious journalism we specialize in.
For instance, one of our reporters recently published a major feature article in The Atlantic’s online publication asking this question: “Why Have So Many Cities and Towns Given Away So Much Money to Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s?” It’s a serious expose of the kind of welfare that governments often hand out to corporations.
My own opinion writing has taken aim at police abuse, criticized civil forfeiture laws and sided with environmentalists seeking to remove the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite National Park.
We are upfront about our worldview – letting our journalism speak for itself and letting our readers make their own decisions about our biases. We believe that’s a far healthier standard than the old newspaper approach, where editors deny any bias even though we know — and they know — that every story in every publication reflects one type of bias or another.
My only complaint was that reporter Justin Peters blithely cited a Media Matters article as evidence that Watchdog.org is more of a lobbying than reporting group. Media Matters, of course, is a left-wing organization dedicated to denouncing and “exposing” the conservative media. We gave its reporter extensive access to our operation and our reporters. After months of investigation, Media Matters presented an account that confirmed its pre-conceived conclusions. It found no problem with our journalism, but mainly attacked us for the conservative associations of non-reporter employees of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the parent organization of Watchdog.org.
The reporters from Watchdog.org come mostly come from the mainstream media, but they reflect a far wider range of opinions than one often finds in newspaper newsrooms. I am a long-time libertarian columnist, and Will Swaim, my managing editor, comes out of the left-leaning alternative-weekly world, where he founded the Village Voice’s OC Weekly in Southern California.
As I mentioned in my address at our event during the Republican convention, there’s a big difference between serious point-of-view journalism and the kind of gotcha, partisan nonsense practiced by many on the left and right, including Media Matters.
We appreciate the coverage and invite you to give us a call next time and we’ll provide a more thorough look inside our operation. We invite your readers to go to Watchdog.org and judge for themselves.
Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.