Colorado State Study Finds Watchdog Role Still Embraced in Newsrooms: Journalists Rank Honesty, Fairness Most Important

Journalists continue to identify with a traditional watchdog role, according to a Colorado State University-led study published in the current issue of "Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly." To a much lesser extent, newspaper reporters and editors embrace the so-called interpretive role, which previous surveys of journalists found to be predominant.

The study additionally finds journalists do not associate watchdog attitudes with ethical shortcomings.

"According to our study results, journalists may disavow the public notion of an over-aggressive journalist, yet they consider such a watchdog function as critical to what constitutes being a credible journalist," said Patrick Lee Plaisance, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State and lead author of the study.

"Journalists who perceive a watchdog role as their primary function placed an immense importance on the need for credibility, though not necessarily civility," added study co-author Elizabeth Skewes, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado.

Plaisance and Skewes surveyed 355 journalists from 239 newspapers across the United States in early 2002 to produce the first profile of how journalists rank a given set of values. Among 24 newsroom values, journalists ranked honesty, fairness and responsibility the most important and forgiving, cheerfulness, obedience, loving and clean the least significant, according to the study.

The article describing the study, "Personal and Professional Dimensions of News Work: Exploring the Link Between Journalists’ Values and Roles," is available for review and downloading on the Web at

"Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly" is published by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, a non-profit, educational association of journalism and mass communication faculty, administrators, students and media professionals. The AEJMC exists to promote the highest possible standards for education in journalism and mass communication, to encourage the widest possible range of communication research, to encourage the implementation of a multi-cultural society in the classroom and curriculum and to defend and maintain freedom of expression in day-to-day living. More information about AEJMC is available online at