It Ain’t Journalism, Folks

Have you noticed those Watchdog websites?

Maybe you have – New Mexico’s got one, after all. The ten state-based sites, which are funded by the free-market group The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, bill themselves as a “network of independent state-based journalists who investigate and report on state and local government.”

Since its launch late last year, many in New Mexico have noted that the reporting on the New Mexico Watchdog is thin and the motives behind the “scoops” it peddles to the  mainstream media have seemed…well…partisan at best.

But it hasn’t stopped the site’s main purveyor, Jim Scarantino, from boasting that he’s the only one with the “guts, determination and courage” to pull off his particular brand of investigation.

Yes, conservative investigative websites are now a trend – one that early on, some government watchdogs had hoped could be a way to keep investigative journalism alive in the face of a declining newspaper industry and the years of professional reporting experience that was disappearing with it.

However, a story in this month’s issue of The Washington Monthly concludes that perhaps the Watchdog clones and a number of other sites just like them could begin to perform that important function…if only the “investigating” on them was up to actual journalistic standards.

Journalist Laura McGann, an assistant editor at the prestigious Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and former editor of the nonprofit news site the Washington Independent, takes an incisive look at the new trend in a piece called “Partisan Hacks: Conservatives Have Discovered the Virtues of Investigative Journalism. But Can Their Reporting Survive Their Politics?” (The Nieman Journalism Lab’s mission is to investigate and chronicle the changing world of journalism in the Internet age through original reporting, analysis and incisive commentary.)

McGann’s lengthy examination of the conservative investigative trend contains an embarrassing deconstruction of the “phantom Congressional district” story so widely heralded late last year by the New Mexico Watchdog.

From her story:

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