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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. Thanks to funding from the Newmark Foundation — and a new sense of urgency — SEJ is renewing and redoubling this effort. In 2020, SEJournal relaunched the WatchDog in a new form — as a regularly published opinion column advocating open information in a personal voice (find the 2008-early 2020 archives of the former WatchDog Tipsheet here). The “voice” of the WatchDog will be 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 WatchDog opinion column.

Latest WatchDog Items

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.

June 29, 2022

  • The Freedom of Information Act offers critical access to journalists — that is, when it’s working well. The latest WatchDog Opinion digs into the latest reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to see how well it lives up to its FOIA requirements and finds that despite progress, the agency continues to fall short on important measures. Plus, insight into how to work the system.

June 1, 2022

  • A growing number of U.S. dams are in poor condition — with potentially lethal results. But the latest WatchDog Opinion argues that equally troubling is that that information is kept secret from the public and journalists in a national database.

May 4, 2022

  • The public’s right to know about toxic and hazardous chemicals is currently limited by trade secret rules that no longer serve any true purpose, argues the new WatchDog Opinion column. And a pending federal rulemaking is an opportunity for journalists to make the case to draw back the curtain, for the sake of their reporting and so that they can better cover their communities’ risks.

April 6, 2022

  • The Biden administration’s “whole-of-government” attack on climate change has increasingly focused on the financial arena, with the most recent move a vote by the Securities and Exchange Commission to draft rules requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose climate risks. Industry and GOP opponents are preparing for the fight over the complex regulations, and WatchDog Opinion argues environmental journalists have a big stake.

March 9, 2022

  • A coalition of open-government and journalism groups is pressing the Justice Department for a clear statement of federal policy favoring openness. The new WatchDog opinion column explains why such a move is needed, and now, not just to signal a change from the Trump-era approach, but also for smoother functioning of the all-important Freedom of Information Act.

February 9, 2022

  • Transparency and scientific integrity are good for public health and the environment, not to mention PR and politics. Yet WatchDog Opinion argues they’ve not been fully embraced by the Biden EPA. There are reasons for hope, however, in the form of a cataloging of violations and in an EPA-specific policy. Why it all matters for how environmental journalists do their jobs.

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