By Amanda Spiller ’17
Award-winning author and journalist (and Maine native) Colin Woodard gave a talk titled “Watchdog Journalism: The Vital Role of a Threatened Discipline” in Daggett Lounge, Thorne Hall, on Oct. 16.
Woodard explained that investigative journalism is an important medium for checking the powers of government and protecting public interest – a role that dates back to the time of our founding fathers. To best inform the public, he continued, journalists should approach journalism “as scientists,” using scientific methodology to hone in the truth. However, many journalists of today take on roles of “idiotic neutrality,” he said, a practice that spells trouble for society. “If we lose watchdog journalism, it is democracy that will follow.”
The decline in watchdog journalism has less to do with emergence of digital media, according to Woodard, and more to do with the billionaires and corporations that started swallowing up news outlets in the 1990s, shifting the focus of journalism from revealing the truth to maximizing profits. Once readers sense dishonesty, he said, the newspaper loses its audience. “There needs to be a firewall between the owner and the newsroom.”
Woodard is a State and National Affairs writer for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, where his work earned him the George Polk Award for investigative reporting in 2012.