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

June 14, 2023

  • Attacks of all kinds on U.S. journalists clearly hamper a free press. And environmental journalists are not spared such aggressions, especially when covering contested places like pipeline construction sites. WatchDog Opinion outlines the problem and explores how journalists might be spared from such violations, including with a prospective law explicitly protecting journalists from assault.

May 10, 2023

  • Not only did the huge legal settlement in the Dominion Voting Systems libel suit against Fox Corp. help reinforce media libel protections set out decades ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. It also served as a reminder for environmental journalists that the “actual malice” standard is a bulwark for their own (often negative) reporting on big corporations. WatchDog Opinion explains.

April 5, 2023

  • For journalists of all stripes, the central pillar of libel law protecting them from damaging defamation suits is Times v. Sullivan. And while at least a couple of Supreme Court justices have indicated an openness to reevaluating the decades-old decision, WatchDog Opinion warns that the real risk to defamation protections may come in the form of legislation, such as from states like Florida.

March 1, 2023

  • A law that protects journalists from being compelled by courts or other federal entities to disclose protected information has long been on the wishlist for most journalism organizations and newsrooms. WatchDog Opinion examines why, even in these polarized political times, it’s actually possible that the U.S. Congress could, at long last, pass such a measure.

February 1, 2023

  • When the Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency changed regulations governing freedom of information requests, journalists worried they were making it easier for political appointees to interfere with disclosures. Now the Biden administration is proposing a rules revision. But, as the latest WatchDog Opinion argues, it’s missing an opportunity to rid the regime of those critical flaws.

January 4, 2023

  • A scandal at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over regulatory capture of some toxic chemical officials has surfaced another serious issue — the EPA says it can’t provide related phone text messages. But it’s required to do so by law. And for environmental journalists, access to such records is key to holding the agency to account, argues WatchDog Opinion.

November 23, 2022

  • The Department of Justice’s new regulations around reporter’s privilege — the protection of journalistic sources and notes — is a noteworthy advance. But the WatchDog Opinion column calls for more: a federal shield law that is less vulnerable to weakening by subsequent administrations. A take on the new regs, the state of current law and prospects for congressional action.

October 26, 2022

  • A new quarrel over climate reporting, prompted by an editorial charging “censorship,” has the WatchDog troubled by the difficulty of finding a path for transparency. The latest WatchDog Opinion takes a look at the dispute, how online platforms like Twitter fit in and the limits of the laws on disinformation in the United States and Europe, all as part of an effort to chart a path forward for journalism.

September 28, 2022

  • Solid data can fuel great journalism. But the data must come from somewhere. For environmental reporters, one critical source is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Access to its data, however, is not always as free as journalists would like. So a new WatchDog takes an (admittedly geeky) look at the agency’s open data plan to clarify its efforts to promote access.

August 24, 2022

  • A recent climate change disinformation kerfuffle involving House Republicans and White House climate czar Gina McCarthy (pictured, left) is an excellent reminder of how journalists can get caught up in the decades-long campaign to deny climate change, argues the latest WatchDog Opinion column. A warning about the effort to weaponize the idea of transparency when it comes to climate change.

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