What is your business model?

West Virginia Watchdog is a non-profit group committed to original, thorough investigative and statehouse/political reporting through weekly print articles, video reports, blogs, and podcasts. As newspapers and other legacy media cut back, journalism non-profits have become more common. But this business model certainly is not new in journalism. National Public Radio and the Christian Science Monitor are two of the most well-known and well established journalism non-profits.

The president of your thinktank has a background in politics – should that be of concern?

It has become commonplace for journalists to come from the political or policy professions. Dianne Sawyer, Bill Moyers, Pierre Salinger, George Stephanopoulos have gone on to have distinguished careers in journalism after high-profile careers in political positions.

On the other hand, Winston Churchill, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Upton Sinclair, Alan Cranston, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Al Gore are all politicians with backgrounds in journalism.

Others, like former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon switched back and forth between the two fields. So cross pollination between the two endeavors is hardly anything new.

The real question is one of fairness: does a particular news organization present the news in a balanced, objective manner. We invite you to examine the work of  West Virginia Watchdog and decide for yourself, as well as the work of our sister sites. Great examples are Texas Watchdog, Old Dominion Watchdog, and Illinois Statehouse News.

We proudly stand by our work, and media outlets such as CNN, Associated Press, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal as well as numerous local and state news organizations have recognized the quality of our reporting and shared it with their audience as trustworthy information.

Do you have a political agenda?

Yes. Our political agenda is twofold: to promote government transparency and accountability. Beyond that, West Virginia Watchdog is a nonpartisan organization that does not promote a political party or agenda.

Why don’t you identify some of your donors?

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), universities and colleges around the nation are only a few of the many non-profit organizations dedicated to respecting the wishes of their donors and adopting policies to allow their donors the option of keeping their identities confidential. This re-occurring trend is nothing new or suspicious, but it is a way that many organizations protect their donors from being targeted or harassed.

As is the case with most non-profits inside and outside of the news media, West Virginia Watchdog allows donations to be given anonymously. Some of our donors choose to be identified, others do not. Honoring donor anonymity is consistent with the values expressed within the charitable code of ethics cited by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

A more appropriate question to ask is: what steps has West Virginia Watchdog taken to protect our reporting from donor influence?

Here is what West Virginia Watchdog has done:

  • West Virginia Watchdog adheres to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
  • As is the case with most news organizations, business organizations – in our case fundraising – is separate and distinct from news gathering and reporting operations. Fundraising is handled by the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia.
  • The identity of donors – whether they gave anonymously or not – is not shared with West Virginia Watchdog to prevent even the most subtle influence that knowledge of a donor’s identity might bring to how a story is reported.
  • Donors are told – in no uncertain terms – that the only thing their gift buys them is good journalism. They are told upfront a donation does not gain them any influence in how stories are reported.

Does your group engage in lobbying?

Neither West Virginia Watchdog nor the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia engage in any form of lobbying. We view this as an increasingly dangerous practice within the news media. For example, Sam Zell, the owner of the Chicago Tribune, was lobbying Gov. Rod Blagojevich for $500 million in loans to rehabilitate Wrigley Field at the same time his newspaper was investigating the governor for corruption. The same could be said of Washington Post CEO Donald Graham’s activities in lobbying Congress for a special provision that would favor Washington Post Co.’s cell phone holdings at the same time his journalists were covering Congress.

Does your group engage in political advocacy?

Unlike most American newspapers, we do not endorse candidates for political office or engage in any type of partisan political activity.

Who uses your material?

Newspapers, radio stations, television broadcasters, news websites and the general public routinely use our reports.

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