GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA — The purpose of Journal Watchdog, an online news site launched in January of 2009 and based in Greenville, South Carolina, couldn’t be any clearer: on the site’s “About Us” page, the words “We are a watchdog website” are emblazoned in bold, twenty-four-point font, with a link to a page containing salaries of various state employees positioned just a couple inches above on the site’s masthead. A project of Community Journals, a publisher of weekly newspapers serving the Greenville area, the Journal Watchdog has positioned itself as a muckraking website dedicated to both local news and greater transparency in South Carolina government.
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“I would say that we knew from the beginning that we could not necessarily compete with the daily newspaper websites that were within our town,” says managing editor Melissa Blanton. “We couldn’t compete with CNN.com. We had to come up with a hybrid that could provide our readers with something they couldn’t get anywhere else but that would add value to what we were adding to our newspaper every week.”
The result is a website with a high journalistic standards and a clear muckraking ethos. Blanton says that the site’s most read stories usually have something to do with government transparency or reform. “What we learn is that people want to know what their government is doing,” she says. “They can go somewhere else to find out what’s happening on Friday night. But they can’t find the arrest record for so-and-so anywhere other than the Journal Watchdog.” The Journal Watchdog has been successful in breaking stories on government malfeasance: for instance, in late January, editor-in-chief Lyn Riddle penned a damning report on some state employees’ abuse of state-issued credit cards.
According to Blanton, the site’s most popular feature is its state government salary database, which has a permanent spot on the site’s masthead. “We had to call every agency in the state of South Carolina and get their information,” she says. “It came from old fashioned journalism.” While the Journal Watchdog aims to focus on government transparency, the bulk of the site’s content is less investigative. A recent front-page story looked at Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne’s ties to the Greenville area; the site also covers local-interest news, like the expansion of public bus service hours in nearby Greenville.
The Journal Watchdog has two full-time reporters in addition to Blanton and Riddle. The site is subsidized by a larger print operation; it is owned and operated by Community Journals, although all of its content is original to the web. Blanton says that the site is “breaking even,” and that its parent organization has enough resources to launch a new weekly print publication while keeping its editorially-separate web operation afloat. Because of this, the Journal Watchdog’s long-term survival is essentially secure. “The Journal struggled with whether it wanted a web presence,” Blanton admits. “But now we realize that if you’re a newspaper you have to be online somewhere. And this is our experiment with having a web presence without detracting from the newspaper.”
Journal Watchdog Data
Name: Journal Watchdog
Principal Staff: Lyn Riddle, editor; Melissa Blanton, Watchdog editor.
Affiliations: Community Journals (parent media company).
CMS: Custom CMS