Journalism of accountability

When Sandy Rowe was in our class a couple of weeks ago, she talked about the prize-winning journalism she had a hand in when she was at The Oregonian. She talked to the editors later that same day about what she called the “journalism of accountability” — enterprise reporting that holds people and/or institutions accountable for their actions.

Here’s a great example from the New York Times today. It’s what an old editor of mine used to call a “Holy Sh**, Mabel!” story (forgive the profanity, but he was a pretty profane guy, old Baxter Omohundro) because it’s the kind of reporting that causes readers to exclaim aloud with surprise and indignation.

Analyze how the reporters went about making the connections between the pro-dairy forces and the national fast food chains’ increase in cheese use. Notice how it’s sourced.

What do you think will happen as a result of this reporting?



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11 Responses to Journalism of accountability

  1. Ben Frentzel says:

    I can tell you what won’t happen…a 12-cheese pizza. Who do these people at Dairy Management think they are? What happened to real research and waiting for confirmation before spreading theories?

  2. mmarkelz says:

    I could believe that the milk consumption might go down as a result of this article. I don’t know how many men and/or women believe the milk and yogurt commercials that claim you can eat and drink your way to a smaller size, but when they find out they’ve been lied to, I think they’ll change their ways. It’s almost like they’ve been wronger, personally, by the dairy companies…like in the movie “Mean Girls” when Lindsay Lohan tells Rachel McAdams she’ll lose weight if she eats those bars for starving children. #elevatingteenmovies

    Not sure this will do a lot in terms of cheese consumption. People will eat almost anything, despite the health risks, as long as it doesn’t kill them instantly. I mean, alcohol is a legitimate poison, and you don’t see kids or adults tapering their intake just because it could give them cirrhosis. #KFCDoubledown

    As a final note, the researcher from Vermont’s quote about promoting dairy and being funded by Dairy Mgmt made me think of this:

    “‘I really believe in the virtue of meat in the diet of all schoolchildren,’ said Christi Miller, a parent and local cattle producer.” #gottalovetheTrib

  3. “But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.”

    What worries me about this quote, and others throughout the stories make me weary. I would like to see some attribution, because especially when it comes to health information, there is an abundance of unverified information.

    But, on the same note, I feel as though the knowledge that it is from the New York Times is enough for readers not to question it. As much as I hope that isn’t the case, I fear even more that it is.

    It certainly makes me wonder if that is a thought process when it comes to attributing, or if it was just an accident. Either way, it’s bad practice.

    I’m not sold on every bit of information in the article, although much of it doesn’t come as a surprise.

  4. Great example. I had no idea just how much cheese they put on pizza– regretting Saturday night.

    It’s disturbing that a partly-government funded organization would publish such false claims and keep advertising against their own research.

    As a result of this article I feel that there will be some new research done and maybe an apology by Dairy Management. They will definitely need to change their advertising campaign to save their credibility.

    It’s a shame, I really did love the new Dominos.

  5. Caitlin Miller says:

    I think this article will get consumers to start thinking more about what they consume. The statistics saying that the average cheese consumption is three times that from 1970 is quite staggering. Although I think this article will open people’s eyes, I’m not sure it will get people to change their ways. Americans sure do love their fatty foods. Ideally this article will cause people to question federal funding to such programs and Dairy Management’s push for more dairy in the daily diet. I think that if more articles and research is done on this topic (and similar ones relating to Americans’ health) that perhaps consumers will really understand what is going on and demand that these companies be held accountable. For now though, I think journalists are the ones demanding accountability when ultimately it should be consumers too.

  6. Sean Leahy says:

    This article will put consumers on guard as to what they are eating, and also make them think about what exactly goes on behind product development.

    The investigative reporting in this article is great. It made me a more informed consumer and provided information I never thought to seek out. In my mind, investigative journalism can hardly be done any better.

  7. Regina Wang says:

    I am amazed with all the documents that Michael Moss obtained for this article: various confidential letters, memos and reports, as well as Diary Management’s tax fillings. With all the backing of these documents, Moss didn’t even need quotes from Dairy Management. The fact DM declined Moss’ interview request makes it appear even more guiltier.

    I’m curious to know how Moss got his hunch for this article. I always dislike seeing so much cheese on my food, but I never thought of a greater, systematic and problematic reason behind America’s astronomical consumption of cheese.

    I hope this article will cause restaurants, especially fast food chains, to decrease their use of cheese. I hope the Obama administration will respond to this article by changing some serious structural issues that involve government and agricultural/dairy industries.

  8. Dustin says:

    I love cheese. Love it. Cheddar, colby jack, swiss, provolone, pepper jack, mozzarella. Delicious. But I won’t deny the insidious and unfortunately links between the USDA and the serious health concerns caused by saturated fat and obesity. One would like to trust a respected government entity. Oops. (And is there really fat-free cheese?)

    Hopefully, one result of this reporting could be the creation of an NGO to take over the food police duties that the USDA has so willingly shirked.

    It’s scary what these people are up to. I remember the weight loss claims, and I’ve read some research on the chocolate milk/sports drink replacement. Plus, the “Got Milk?” campaign. Come on!

  9. Wow. WOW!

    I’m impressed.

    It was long, but I wanted to keep reading. It does more than just give the facts — it connects them with clarity and gives them context for a powerful effect, which is what Missourian editors are constantly encouraging us to do as reporters. I can see why.

    Part of what made the connections powerful were the sources: reports to Congress, a memorandum, a trade publication, a letter, a brochure, and federal tax filings, to name a few. Then, of course, there’s my favorite: “According to contract records released through the Freedom of Information Act . . .” A win for journalism.

    Yet the story also blended a few news releases, as well as human sources, both from interviews and written correspondence. And the writer was transparent about the type of communication that occurred.

    I don’t think he could have gotten that story if he relied on humans alone. He needed the documentation, which spoke loud and clear.

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