A good week for watch-dogging on the Web

I hope those folks who believe that only newspapers can best serve as the platform for sound investigative reporting were watching a couple of developments this week that ought put a dent in that theory.

That they are sort of close to home to me is only incidental, since the examples I’m about to cite have been nationally recognized.

First, the former investigations editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has gotten off to a strong start with a Web site devoted to investigative journalism in the Atlanta area and Georgia. Jim Walls, who was part of my buyout group last fall and who guided several award-winning projects that made a difference, has a clear objective for his Atlanta Unfiltered venture:

“The Internet is overflowing with opinions. Facts? Not so much.

“This site is about restoring the balance. We dig up and share public records on ethics and transparency in  government and public institutions — all with minimal interpretation.”

Here’s more on Atlanta Unfiltered from former Creative Loafing Atlanta editor Ken Edelstein, who reently was laid off and has started his own Atlanta-oriented site. Jim Romenesko picked up the story and it’s gotten plenty of props throughout the journosphere.

And as the NCAA basketball tournament headed into the Sweet 16, two of the best basketball writers I know broke a bombshell story that could bring down one of the top programs in the country.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote a detailed piece following a six-month investigation alleging that the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program violated major NCAA rules. UConn is one of the favorites to win the national championship and didn’t seem distracted last night in beating Purdue to advance to within a game of the Final Four.

The writers used Freedom of Information Act reqests to get phone records and other material to build their story, which of course, ran only online. Wojnarowski was a long-time newspaper writer who  joined the sizable Yahoo! sportswriting stable with Wetzel, a former editor of mine at Basketball Times and who’s never written professionally for a daily newspaper.

These are only two examples of Web watchdog journalism, and there is a valid concern that the institutional structures of newspapers that nurtured serious reporting work like this are taking down too much with it.

But to man the barricades as though nothing better were possible than what is evaporating now is delusional. It also sends a damaging message to journalists thrown out of newsrooms but who are still committed to doing this kind of reporting.

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