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How Watergate changed what journalists do
Today’s journalistic climate is different because of Watergate.
Alicia Shepard, a professor at American University, gave this viewpoint on in a session entitled, “What if Watergate happened today?” Friday, March 16.
1n 1972, five men were arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
In the following months, the break-in and its cover-up were connected to top White House aides, and, eventually, to President Nixon.
“The reporting that Woodward and Bernstein did during the case inspired countless people to go into journalism,” Shepard said.
“It was the courts, the FBI and the tapes that proved Nixon knew about the cover-up, but Woodward and Bernstein kept the story alive.
“They never gave up in the face of the White House denying their allegations.”
Now, Shepard said, because of reporting by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the journalistic climate has changed in five main ways.
Focus on the tellers
For one, Watergate focused on the tellers, not the story, Shepard said.
“The movie about Woodward and Bernstein, ‘All The President’s Men,’ centered on the two journalists’ efforts to divulge the scandal,” she said.
The glamour of the storytellers led to four other main changes, Shepard said.
More use of anonymous sources
One is an increase in the use and overuse of anonymous sources, she said.
“Woodward and Bernstein were so successful because they protected their source,” she said.
Rise in investigative reporting
Another change is a rise in investigative reporting.
“After Watergate, ‘I-teams,’ or investigative units, began emerging,” Shepard said.
New distrust between media and White House
Watergate also created a new distrust between the media and the White House, Shepard said.
“Before Watergate, reporters were cowed by the White House and accepted everything that they spat out at them,” she said.
“Now, journalists have become much more aggressive and combative, questioning everything the White House does or says.”
Greater prominence of women
A final major change is greater prominence of women in the field, Shepard said.
“Already, the demographic was changing,” she said.
“The publisher of the Washington Post at the time was a woman, Katharine Graham. She definitely had a huge contribution towards women entering journalism.”
According to Shepard, Woodward and Bernstein worked well as a team.
“Although the two have different backgrounds and personalities, they were good for partnerships because they have different strengths and talents.
“Bernstein is a much more intuitive thinker, while Woodward is more plotting and plans things out. One would have a big idea, and the other would pull back so they could look at the big picture.”
Megan Kenslea is an editor of the Newtonite at Newton North High School in Newtonville, Mass.
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CSPA is an international student press association, founded in 1925, whose goal is to unite student journalists and faculty advisers at schools and colleges through educational conferences, idea exchanges, textbooks, critiques and award programs.