The transition of the watchdog title

One of the first phrases we learn in our media classes is “watchdog journalism.” It is the job of journalists to be the public’s protector by unveiling wrongdoing.

Today, those roles are switching hands.

In a world where digital media allows us to fire off information in a matter of seconds, journalism has become a much more competitive arena of who can break a story first. However, first does not always mean correct. It should not who can get the story first, but who will be first to get it right.

In his book ‘Mediactive,’ Dan Gillmor asks the question, “What is it about breaking news that causes us to turn off our logical brains?”

I admit that I am guilty of taking information at face value when it comes from sources I had grown accustomed to treating as credible at all times. So I will take that breaking tweet or news story and republish it to my followers. And then when it comes to light that the first information was false, I join the rest of the crowd in chastising that media corporation.

Quite hypocritical of me, I’m ashamed to say. I should instead take personal responsibility and work on my media literacy skills.

This is the overarching idea that Gillmor introduces in his book. He outlines five principles of media consumption: be skeptical, exercise judgment, open your mind, keep asking questions and learn media techniques. By keeping these ideas in mind, we can become better media consumers.

We need to discover all sides of a story for ourselves. If there is something questionable in a news story, we should dive into it more before just accepting it with the rest of the mainstream media consumers. We have to think critically about where we are taking in this information and how it was gathered and reported. If we believe one thing, we should explore the opposing view to find true balance. We have to understand the purpose and goals of different media producers. And we should never stop asking questions.

Basically, we cannot be passive. We must be active.

“Yet you, or I, or almost anyone we know, can create something as trustworthy as that piece of fiction was deceitful.” – Gillmor

These principles of media consumption are just a part of developing the media literacy needed to navigate information in the digital world. And in practicing these, we are holding media producers reliable for what they say. We are forcing transparency on their part, for they demand it from others.

The public is now the watchdog of the media producers.

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3 Comments on “The transition of the watchdog title”

  1. Brad King says:

    One of the ideas that Dan and I discussed when he was writing this book was this: I believe this reads more like a primer on journalism, while he thinks that the skills in journalism need to be taught to the general public since so many folks are now acting as citizen journalists.

    The question I have – based on this response – is whether you think this is a book about journalism or is this what a media literacy course should look like in the future?

    • steph3038 says:

      I would identify my ideas more with the latter part of that first statement. I also think that the journalistic skills are a part of the media literacy necessary to navigate the democratized media today. That’s the only way the general population is going to know how to actively and effectively participate. So while the book may touch on a lot of journalistic principles, I see it as just a part — though a major part — of the bigger purpose: media literacy.


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