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Withering Watchdogs
Print journalists remain as America’s preeminent group of watchdogs. As Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz noted, “While journalists may lack subpoena power and eavesdropping authority, they often crack these cases ahead of the cops.”

A current example of the life-and-death importance of journalist watchdogs is the investigative reporting by the Los Angeles Times into failures by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the NGO that oversees transplants. As the Times reports, UNOS “often fails to detect or decisively fix problems at derelict hospitals — even when patients are dying at excessive rates, a Times investigation has found” and “When it does act...” UNOS “routinely keeps findings of its investigations secret, leaving patients and their families unaware of the potential risks, interviews and confidential records show.”

Even in this age of blogs and podcasts and news snippets delivered by all manner of electronic gimmickry, a well written and edited newspaper remains a pleasure to read. Declining readership and associated budgetary pressures, however, are resulting in sharp newsroom cutbacks. The Publisher of the Los Angeles Times was removed when he refused to cut a newsroom staff that had numbered 1,200 five years ago from the current 940 to about 800. Cutbacks have hit the newsrooms of most newspapers including The Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as news staffs of the major television networks.

No newspaper can afford to maintain an effective investigative staff without a substantial number of subscribers. No society can thrive without vigorous and vigilant journalists. Do yourself a favor. Turn off your computer and go buy a newspaper.

  • See Los Angeles Times article on UNOS
  • See Washington Post article on newsroom cutbacks

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