WatchDog

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The WatchDog has been published by the Society of Environmental Journalists for nearly two decades, relentlessly alerting journalists of threats to their ability to gather information and do their jobs. In 2020, SEJournal relaunched the WatchDog in a new form — as a regularly published opinion column advocating open information in a personal voice. The “voice” of the WatchDog is that of columnist Joseph A. Davis (pictured, right), who has been advocating First Amendment freedom for all that time and who has been covering the environment journalistically since the 1970s. Read more about the relaunch of the WatchDog Opinion column. And find the 2008-early 2020 archives of the former WatchDog Tipsheet here.

For questions and comments, or to suggest future columns, email WatchDog Opinion Editor Joseph A. Davis at sejournaleditor@sej.org.


Latest WatchDog Items

May 22, 2024

  • When corporate, often politicized entities create fake newspapers in communities without their own in order to control the news agenda, it’s called “pink slime news.” And its purveyors have made a significant target of environmental and energy issues, writes WatchDog Opinion. A look at the rise of “fake news” outlets, the decline of real ones and how to fight back.

April 24, 2024

  • Laws that make undercover journalistic investigations of animal agriculture operations illegal violate the First Amendment, right? Not so clear, laments WatchDog Opinion, which points out that while the Supreme Court appeared to have struck down such laws just last year, it may now revisit the issue. Why it should matter not just to environmental reporters but to all journalists.

March 13, 2024

  • Artificial intelligence is at the confluence of forces — concentrated media ownership, the dominance of social media platforms — that are harming press freedoms and the work of journalists. But the WatchDog Opinion column warns AI may quickly further problems of disinformation and censorship. Here’s why, along with some hopeful responses from the journalism profession.

February 14, 2024

  • Environmental journalists commonly grouse about obstacles the press office at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency throws up when reporters want to talk to its scientists. Might a newly proposed scientific integrity policy help change that? The WatchDog Opinion column, which regularly joins in the censuring, says there’s a chance it could. But will it? Why the outlook is cloudy.

January 17, 2024

  • For environmental journalists who recall the first Trump administration’s hostility toward media, the prospects of a second Trump presidency are troubling. But not nearly as worrying, WatchDog Opinion writes, as what a Trump reelection would mean for press freedom as a whole, nor for the democracy that hinges on that freedom. Read why the risks of journalists being targeted are real.

December 13, 2023

  • While government censorship may worry journalists, so should self-censorship. That’s the warning in this month’s WatchDog Opinion, whether self-censorship’s “chilling effect” is driven by fears of attack, legal or physical, or by distortions in what it means to be fair, a “bothsidesism” usually pushed by one-sided players. But the bottom line, the column argues, is that when the truth is knowable and known, journalists owe it to their audiences to make the call.

November 1, 2023

  • When the governor of Nebraska personally attacked an investigative reporter who’d covered environmental problems in his family business, it drew a national spotlight and a quick response from free press supporters, including the Society of Environmental Journalists. WatchDog Opinion looks at what happened and observes that politicians’ name-calling of journalists has an unfortunate history — but must never be allowed to stop the truthtelling.

October 4, 2023

  • How did the Lahaina wildfire spark an AI-driven influence campaign out of China? Perhaps a technological leap. Or perhaps, the new WatchDog Opinion column suggests, a natural evolution of a decades-old disinformation playbook with roots in a war against science and culminating in climate denial. A look at the disturbing prospects and a plea for journalists not to sidestep the phenomenon but to cover it.

September 13, 2023

  • It may seem like fast-moving technology that’s undermining traditional news outlets. But for WatchDog Opinion, it may be more about the notion of news as property, rather than a public good. Could nonprofit newsrooms — many of which cover energy and the environment — be a better model? And is there a funding mechanism that would support them sustainably … and permanently?

July 12, 2023

  • A recent gathering of Nobel laureates in Washington, D.C., including Filipina journalist Maria Ressa (pictured, left), highlighted the growing risks of disinformation — including on efforts to combat climate change — but also the rising sense of hope that comes from those who pledge to stand up to its challenge. This month’s WatchDog Opinion column shares a perspective from the event.

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