Bob Woodward Speaks of Watergate and the Present News Age

The growth of internet media, a lack of reporters, and harsh budget constrictions have restructured our present news age, but even decades after the famous 1972 Watergate investigation, these challenges would not keep diligent journalists from uncovering the scandal that took down President Nixon if it happened today.  I interviewed top news professionals, including Bob Woodward himself, star reporter of the Watergate burglary along with Carl Bernstein. Most of my sources said they believe the Watergate scandal would still be uncovered today despite increasing internet use for stories, reporting staff decline, and minimal spending.

Even though today’s newsrooms have changed, the basics of gathering news are the same as they were thirty years ago. Information is the primary tool journalists need to build the best news. Now the associate editor of the Washington Post, Woodward said, “Watergate or any other story depends on the quality of information and the quality of the sources with firsthand knowledge.” In spite of staffing cuts and financial shortages, reporters do not need a big support staff or budget to uncover the best information from the most expert sources. Further, Woodward did not get the newest and significant Watergate details from the internet, nor blog about Watergate or discuss his case on social media websites in the early 1970’s. Rather, he stuck with valuable sources and good information.

DePaul University’s Bruce Evensen described changing internet capability, fewer reporters and scarce budgets as opportunities for media. Evensen said, “We have so many more reporters now than we had then, so many more distribution points for information, that it is highly likely Watergate would again be front page news, and we’d get to the bottom of things earlier now with 24/7 news cycles than we did then.” Evensen actually sees a reporting staff increase, and applauds the internet for speeding up and facilitating the investigation by constantly updating news stories online.  

While the internet can act as a catalyst to investigative news work, award-winning journalist Joe Cappo is cautious of the internet in the present media world. Cappo argues that online news has “substantially more misinformation and erroneous information because of the participatory aspect of the Internet.” For example, Wikipedia supplies chronological data that is easy to find and access. However, any visitors to the site can edit and add details by simply clicking a link. Wikipedia readers do not know if the site’s material came from a reliable source and that necessary editing was done. Although the Watergate scandal would have been uncovered today, the internet would not be an ideal source for responsibly hunting down evidence and distinguishing facts from fiction.

Even so, former Fox reporter and Peabody award-winner Lilia Chacon is an internet enthusiast, who favors the quickness of online investigation. Chacon said, “Just like the old days, you are only as good as your sources, but it really gives you access to information that would have required months of digging and miles of walking.” The internet provides endless search results and crunches time spent doing research, but reporters must carefully read and double-check their material for accuracy, which takes time and attention. Therefore, Chacon does not suppose the lengthy Watergate investigation could be uncovered with today’s newsroom obstacles. Chacon said, “I don’t think today’s journalists would be given the time and resources to stick with a story like Watergate that took so many days and weeks to generate copy. Certainly in most newsrooms the production who do the calling and digging are some of the first people to get cut. The public is not well-served, and the crooks must be rejoicing because getting away with it is only getting easier. I also think the lawyers would have gotten nervous about printing the Pentagon Papers… it was really a different time and age.”

Rapid discovery of news stories with continuous accessibility of the internet greatly benefits today’s journalists, but reexamining online information for verification is a must. Today’s journalists strive daily to come up with front-page scoops. Staffing cuts and resource shortage continue to challenge today’s media climate, but I believe the demanding journey that broke the Watergate scandal would still occur if it took place today. Continuing in 2011, expansion and development of media venues offer multiple outlets to reporters. As discussed, journalists use many different internet websites to post updates over the course of an investigative story. Woodward said, “It might be newspapers, TV, or even blogs if they have good, substantial sources.”

If the Watergate investigation were to take place today, Woodard added, “Two keys to the Watergate story: 1. Incremental coverage, sticking to it and writing the small, medium and large stories. 2. Hoping people in the government pick up the ball or accelerate their interest in what reporters are finding and publishing or broadcasting.”  In today’s Watergate account, government officials would be more regarding of investigative reporting, and develop strategies for journalists to find inside scoops and uncover scandals.                   

In our current era of news, journalists are adapting to more internet use, fewer reporters per newsroom and reduced spending for investigative media. Strong relationships with good sources, precise editing and accurate facts do not require funding from media companies, and determination also goes without a price tag. The Watergate masterpiece that extraordinarily inspired brilliant journalism across the United States would absolutely be fully investigated by journalists and exposed through media today.

— This article was published in The DePaulia newspaper, and The Depaulia online.

Posted on May 4, 2011, in Journalism Assignments - DePaul University, Straight from Holly and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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