Are newspaper reporters still necessary? When the Los Angeles Timesbroke the story of corruption in Bell, California, where the city manager was collecting $1.5 million in annual compensation, it felt like vindication for the institutional press and its traditional role. Before Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives filed their stories, officials in the small, working-class city had long misbehaved with impunity. Wouldn’t Bell’s taxpayers be wasting more millions per annum if not for metro L.A.’s newspaper of record? Sure, the Times’s overextended staff had missed the story for years, and its editors had closed the bureau nearest Bell. But didn’t that just highlight the civic costs exacted by falling ad revenue and successive rounds of layoffs? In this telling, it’s vital that a competent beat reporter serve every city to guard against the graft and corruption that would go unnoticed in his or her absence.
We need journalistic watchdogs. Various nonprofits are trying to figure out how best to subsidize their work, and more power to them. But it’s worth considering that not all privately initiated government scrutiny need be conducted as journalism.
Conor Friedersdorf is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He can be reached at email@example.com.