The New Watchdogs

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

by Rob Bluey


It’s telling that free-market think tanks are holding public figures accountable rather than the anointed truth-seekers who troll America’s biggest newsrooms. And thanks to the work of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, it’s happening in more places than just Wisconsin.

The Franklin Center is working with reporters in more than 40 states. Some have investigative reporters embedded in think tanks that the Franklin Center works with like MacIver; others have their own news bureau, many of which are managed directly by the Franklin Center. Wisconsin happens to have both.Wisconsin Reporter is a Franklin Center news organization that has created its own share of headlines for consistently breaking news. And the subjects of its uncompromising reports have taken notice: Last month it was the subject of a threat from the Wisconsin Democratic Party over its media credentials.

As traditional news organizations, facing declining advertising sales and circulation, have scaled back investigative journalism and beat reporting by state capital bureaus, Franklin seeks to a fill the void. Reporters work for nonprofit organizations, many at free-market think tanks, and pursue stories that other media outlets ignore. Their work appears online on websites such as Texas Watchdog or Pennsylvania Independent In many cases, it’s also picked up by local news outlets seeking quality content.

Franklin-affiliated reporters have broken stories about government corruption, political kickbacks and other unethical schemes. Their work was recognized in a July report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellent in Journalism on the growth of nonprofit journalism. While that study raised questions about the ideological nature of Franklin’s work, it is undeniably having an impact on news that informs the citizenry of goings-on in government. And that’s the message you’ll frequently hear from Jason Stverak, the organization’s president. Whenever critics pounce, Stverak points to the quality work of Franklin-affiliated journalists. As Stverak wrote in the Washington Examiner in July following the release of Pew’s study, “[T]he Franklin Center and our network of reporters are dedicated to educating the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud, waste and abuse of public trust by elected officials. . . . [O]ur reporters are accurate, independent and relentlessly in pursuit to expose the truth and to hold our government officials accountable to the people they represent.”

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