The Internet and digital media present unmistakable opportunities and benefits to the public but also significant challenges. This lesson focuses on the ways that digital media, and especially mobile media, are shaping the relationship between the people and the press and expanding the role that citizen watchdogs can play in a democracy. In this lesson, students consider the definition and responsibilities of “citizen watchdogs,” develop a culminating set of strategies or guidelines for combating confirmation bias as they consume and create news and information, and consider the very powerful role of social and mobile media as tools for social change.
Increasingly, activists and everyday citizens are engaging in so-called watchdog activities that, at one time, were almost entirely the province of professional journalists. These activities include capturing video and images of breaking news events, publishing information for a mass audience, curating and disseminating third-party information, and publicly commenting on issues and events. Media critics and scholars disagree about whether this activity should be referred to as journalism or by another term, such as playing a “citizen watchdog” role, because some believe the term “journalist” should be reserved for trained practitioners who aspire to meet a set of journalistic standards.
The News Literacy Project defines a citizen watchdog as any citizen who documents an injustice or other wrongdoing and shares that evidence with an audience, including journalists. This might involve anything from documenting problems with city services (such as a failure to fix streets, unequal access to resources, unfair treatment of a particular community, etc.) to encounters with the police and illegal or unethical practices by local politicians or businesses.