I am amazed at how many times my courses and studied concepts have overlapped things I have been doing on the job.
This past week, we've been discussing watchdog journalism in my Social Role of the Media class at Kent State University. While talking, discussing and studying about watchdog journalism, my current publication published two stories about a longtime bookkeeper for a local irrigation district who is alleged to have embezzled more than $800,000 from the district's coffers during a six-year span.
During that investigation, we also uncovered allegations of an affair, gambling and other misdeeds allegedly committed by this person, who worked as the bookkeeper for the irrigation district for 42 years.
We were able to obtain legal documents from a civil lawsuit complaint filed by the district against this person. Criminal charges are pending by the district attorney's office.
Part of watchdog journalism is having a good working relationship with law enforcement and the legal system (attorneys, court officials, judges) who helped us obtain the documents we needed. The allegations first started as a rumor when a woman called me (anonymously) and told me what she had "heard." A couple of phone calls to the right people and we were in possession of the needed documentation (without the need to use FOIA). It is certainly much easier, and quicker, to get what you need if you have good working relationships with the aforementioned folks. It avoids the hassle and red tape of filing a FOIA and waiting several days for the request to be filled.
The piece was the talk of the area and was listed as our top-read story. We plan to follow up with a story about how this can/should be avoided in the future as we have two other active embezzlement allegations. One case was recently resolved when a National Parks Service worker was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing money from admissions fees into a local park.
There seems to be a need to watchdog journalism, more now than ever before, in my area.