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posted: 10/5/2017 6:00 AM

Watchdogs: The free press' most important role in our democracy

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  • Prospect High School teacher and newspaper adviser Jason Block and members of his Prospector staff.

    Prospect High School teacher and newspaper adviser Jason Block and members of his Prospector staff.
    courtesy of Jason Block

 
By Jason Block
Prospect High School teacher and newspaper adviser

What is the only profession specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights?

That is my favorite question to ask the students in my Journalistic Writing 1 course as I try to impress upon them the importance of what they are about to learn.

And there is a very simple explanation for why journalism earned that distinction from our Founding Fathers: Because they knew there was no more important role in our democracy than that of a free press acting as a watchdog over those in power.

Without a free press doing its job as journalistic watchdog, citizens are left to guess if their elected officials are doing their jobs, or if the people they have entrusted have earned that trust.

Movies such as "All the President's Men" and "Spotlight" have brought glory to the role of journalistic watchdog, but it doesn't take covert meetings in parking garages or months of tireless digging to be a watchdog.

Journalists are watchdogs every time they file a Freedom of Information Act request, every time they fact-check a speech, every time they ask a tough question that needs asking.

Unfortunately, it's a job that is sometimes left unfulfilled.

The recession of the last decade happened, at least in part, because the press left the powers that be on Wall Street -- namely Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- unchecked by not asking questions or for accountability, and in the process caused irreparable harm to millions of Americans.

Simply put, the press must fulfill this duty because our democracy demands it. Citizens are too busy living their lives and doing their jobs to hold officials accountable on a daily basis.

That is the job they entrust to a free press.

Because without a diligent, ferocious watchdog standing guard at all times, those in power will always remain in power, sometimes at all of our peril.

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