My column in the print edition today is about the consistent call I hear from readers for The Star to be vigilant in its watchdog role, especially when it comes to government. In general, those readers don't think the paper does enough.
I've heard from several who think I did a poor job with the column. One emailer said he found it ironic that I pointed out partisan journalists can run into trouble getting comment from politicians on the other side of the aisle, as he thinks The Star is extremely partisan itself.
Reader Patrick Clark brought up an interesting, well-articulated point:
I agree that the role of watchdog is the primary function served by the media.
My question for you is: who is watching the media? What happens when the media makes mistakes, has ethical lapses, or, in the case of phone hacking at News Corp, is a delicious stew of venal, corrupt, and criminal? I might even feel better about that issue if the reporters had been working to uncover scandalous behavior of public officials rather than scooping celebrity hubris.
I guess we hope the media watches itself. Would you trust Congress to fill the role of political watchdog?
Public trust and MY trust of the media has taken a nose dive, in part because the entity operates unrestrained by fear of exposure of wrongdoing. Sure, we know about News Corp, but what else is happening that we don't know about because the role of media watchdog is left to the foxes in the henhouse?
Fair questions. I would say that many big media companies do have a heritage of operating more openly that most private businesses, though. An example I like to think about: Newspaper companies run letters to the editor and guest columns and host innumerable online comments critical of their news coverage and opinion pieces every day. But do huge companies like Apple or Kraft do the same thing -- much less hire ombudsmen to sift out the best criticisms and give them greater prominence?
But still, his point makes sense, and there are surely news decisions that readers and ombudsmen never know about behind the scenes that affect the resultant coverage.