Nieman Watchdog Project

Nieman Watchdog Project

For the past eight years, the Nieman Watchdog site has explored the ways in which journalists do or do not hold powerful individuals and institutions accountable. Among its most important and popular articles are:

  • Inside ProPublica’s Healthcare Investigation
    ProPublica’s investigation “The Prescribers: Inside the Government’s Drug Data” has provoked a swift response from the federal government. Winner of the 2013 Philip Meyer Award, it exposed the Medicare system’s failure to provide oversight for thousands of physicians who have written prescriptions that in some cases put patients at risk, in others cost the federal government far more than necessary, and sometimes were simply fraudulent. Charles Ornstein, who has specialized in healthcare investigations for years now, was joined on the project by ProPublica’s Tracy Weber, Jennifer LaFleur, Jeff Larson, and Lena Groeger. Nieman Reports spoke by phone with Ornstein as he prepared to travel to Baltimore to accept the award. February 28, 2014
  • James Risen's First Amendment Battle
    For six years, New York Times national security reporter James Risen has been fighting to keep his promise of anonymity to a source who told him about a failed CIA initiative. The latest round started last month when Risen asked the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize his First Amendment right to protect his source. If the justices don’t accept his case or rule against Risen, he’ll have to take the stand or risk going to jail. February 13, 2014
  • The Too-Many Prisoners Dilemma
    With society potentially poised to turn the corner on mass incarceration, will news organizations rise to the challenge and increase their coverage? Or do limited resources and a lack of interest mean criminal justice issues—and the poignant underlying human-interest stories—continue to go largely unaddressed? September 18, 2013
  • Two E-books about Investigative Journalism in the U.S. and Around the World
    "Muckraking Goes Global: The Future of Cross-Border Investigative Journalism" examines the achievements and challenges of investigative journalists reporting stories on subjects of global interest and impact. Journalists from Latin America, Romania, and the U.S. contributed. Published in Spanish and English on the occasion of three major investigative journalism conferences held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the fall of 2013, the e-book includes original content as well as articles published in the Spring 2013 issue of Nieman Reports.

    .epub | .mobi | .pdf



    "Investigative Reporting: Perils and Promise" focuses on post-Communist realities for journalists, government pushback on press freedoms, and strategies for moving forward. With contributions by journalists from Europe, Latin America, Russia, and South Africa, the e-book is a compilation of articles published in the Spring 2011 issue of Nieman Reports and in Kiev, Ukraine, in concert with a global investigative journalism conference held in the fall of 2011.

    .epub | .mobi | .pdf October 9, 2013
  • How to Keep Sources Secure from Surveillance
    In an encrypted Q&A with The New York Times Magazine, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden warned that journalists have been slow to properly respond to the threat of government surveillance. "I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world," he wrote to Peter Maass about his initial attempts to communicate with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald. "In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless." Revelations over the last few months have made it clear that the U.S. government is willing and able to use telephone and Internet records to pursue sources who leak secrets to the media, and to do so by targeting reporters, if necessary. August 14, 2013
  • Public Service Work
    Margaret Engel, a longtime champion of nonprofit journalism, hopes more foundations (including small, locally based ones) will start to recognize the essential public service work of news organizations—and will realize that their communities' needs are less likely to be met if reporters aren't out there exposing them. May 16, 2013
  • You Can't Rush Great Journalism
    Photojournalist and filmmaker Molly Bingham writes that good journalism takes time—including time on the ground. And if we can't find some way to afford it, then our journalism will suffer. Third in a series of Q. and A.’s with former Nieman Fellows about the past, present and future of watchdog reporting. April 17, 2013
  • Complicated Matters
    Veteran investigative journalist Ken Armstrong, NF ’01, encourages his fellow reporters to look for patterns rather than isolated anecdotes, to focus on what others have to say rather than joust with sources, and not to be too humble. In a Q. and A. about watchdog reporting, he said stories too often are presented as black and white; what he’d like to see is “less villainizing, more humanizing.” And he singled out Steve Coll’s “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” as a well-researched book that doesn’t shy from nuance. January 4, 2013
  • Interview With a Watchdog Journalist
    “Never stop asking for public documents,” says Boston Globe reporter Jenifer B. McKim, NF ’08, in the first of a series of Q. and A.'s with Nieman Fellows about watchdog reporting. “Sometimes a simple public records request can lead to stunning discoveries.” In McKim’s case, her request for reports about lead poisoning, made when she was a reporter at The Orange County Register in California, kicked off a two-year investigation into candy tainted with lead that prompted changes in state and federal laws. December 21, 2012
  • At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Watchdog Reporting is King
    Marty Kaiser has been editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 15 years, and during that time he has had to make a lot of cuts to his newsroom. The path he chose was to give up daily, incremental stories that don't move the ball, in favor of emphasizing watchdog stories that expose problems that need fixing. "What I love about it is that in a way it's the old-fashioned newspaper crusade," he says. "I think you should stand up for what you believe in and say that's what you're doing." October 31, 2012
  • But What About the Veterans?
    Foreign policy has taken a back seat in the U.S. presidential election, especially the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But reporters should at the very least press Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on a related domestic issue: the treatment of veterans. So asserts Kennedy School lecturer Juliette Kayyem, who notes that neither candidate is addressing the challenges facing those who bore the heaviest burden of war. October 10, 2012
  • The Jobs Crisis
    Job creation is a key topic in the presidential election but so far it's been all sound bites and no substance. Dan Froomkin, a new contributing editor to Nieman Reports and former deputy editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project, examines the jobs crisis and what's missing from Romney and Obama's statements on the issue. Neither seems ready to acknowledge that, in the words of Robert Pollin, author of “Back to Full Employment," creating decent jobs requires “substantial levels of government intervention.” October 11, 2012
  • Fair to Voters?
    Dan Froomkin, formerly deputy editor of the Nieman Watchdog website, is now a contributor to Nieman Reports. His first piece examined the jobs crisis and what's missing from the job plans offered by the Romney and Obama campaigns. In his new piece, Froomkin talks to an election expert who suggests four voting metrics that can help reporters judge the fairness of elections. September 11, 2012
  • Taking a New Direction
    Among the changes at the Nieman Watchdog Project is a closer alliance with Nieman Reports. Dan Froomkin, formerly deputy editor of the Nieman Watchdog website, is a new contributor to both the print magazine and the Nieman Reports website. Froomkin is a senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post who previously wrote a White House politics column for The Washington Post’s website. August 24, 2012
  • Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education? Anything?
    Diane Ravitch poses a dozen piercing questions on education and school policy. Some of them turn conventional thinking on its ear, and each could be a starting point for reporting on elections, from the presidency on down to local school boards. February 7, 2012
  • ‘Follow the Money—Globally’
    Working with reporters across borders is the new frontier for accountability journalism, says Sheila S. Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Born in Manila, Coronel co-founded the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and served as its director for 17 years. Now blogging as the “WatchDog Watcher,” she argues that journalists can’t “follow the money” if they’re not going global with their reporting. November 21, 2012
  • At least 1,400 arrests for antiwar dissent, but who’s counting? Not the press.
    The national news media almost totally ignore homefront protests of the Afghanistan war, killer drones, torture, and more, regardless of their newsworthiness. By its lack of coverage, isn’t the press thus helping perpetuate an endless war? July 22, 2011
  • Nine stories the press is underreporting — fraud, fraud and more fraud
    From liars' loans to liars' liens, the financial and foreclosure crisis has been one big story of banks defrauding their customers — a vast criminal enterprise. You wouldn't know it from a lot of the media coverage, though. Regulatory hero and criminologist William K. Black helps connect the dots. October 20, 2010
  • The BP disaster underscores government as the problem, not the solution
    After decades of planned neglect, mismanagement and ideological attack, the American government, across the board, has gotten out of the way of corporate America – and the country is paying a heavy price. Obama promised to make government service “cool” again. Ask him to show where he's doing that. June 14, 2010
  • (Un)Covering the Death Squads in El Salvador
    On the 30th anniversary of the brutal assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, a veteran reporter looks back at some extraordinary and daring close-in coverage that was spurred by personal anger at the murder of the priest. March 24, 2010
  • U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are committing atrocities, lying, and getting away with it
    Jerome Starkey recently reported for The Times of London about a night raid on Feb. 12 in which U.S. and Afghan gunmen opened fire on two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local officials -- an atrocity which NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters then tried to cover up. Now, in a blistering indictment of both NATO and his own profession, Starkey writes for Nieman Watchdog that the international forces led by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal are rarely called to account because most reporters are too dependent on access, security and the 'embed culture' to venture out and see what's happening for themselves. March 22, 2010
  • The flawed thinking of the administration's torture advocates
    An expert military interrogator wants to know why the president's legal advisers were so intent on rationalizing the violation of longstanding law in order to adopt an approach — coercion — that experienced interrogation practitioners agree is not just ineffective, but counterproductive. August 7, 2008
  • A pre-election attack on Iran remains a possibility
    President Bush still believes the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons — and so do the Israelis. So for journalists to assume that neither the U.S. nor Israel will attack Iran before the November election could constitute another failure of imagination. Cato’s Leon Hadar suggests questions the press should ask the presidential candidates about what they think the American response should be to various scenarios in the region — including a Gulf-of-Tonkin-like alleged provocation. February 5, 2008
  • ‘Supporting the troops’ means withdrawing them
    Gen. William Odom writes that opponents of the war should focus public attention on the fact that Bush’s obstinate refusal to admit defeat is causing the troops enormous psychological as well as physical harm. July 5, 2007
  • The F-22 Raptor is said to be invisible...until it isn't
    Analysts liken fighter plane to a WWII Messerschmidt, saying it is a technological marvel with the latest weapons but that it will be poor in combat. April 19, 2006
  • What’s wrong with cutting and running?
    Everything that opponents of a pullout say would happen if the U.S. left Iraq is happening already, says retired Gen. William E. Odom, the head of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration. So why stay? August 3, 2005