Democracy’s Watchdog
Preview the lesson below, then register for free to access the entire lesson or assign it to students.​
Average Duration
60+ Minutes
Difficulty Level
Lesson Host
Wesley Lowery
of 60 in 6 on Quibi (formerly a reporter at The Washington Post)

Learn about the historic watchdog role that a free press has played in the United States by exploring a collection of investigative reports spanning more than a century.

News literacy topics

A free press; Investigative journalism/watchdog role; Standards of quality journalism; The First Amendment

Learning objectives

  • I can explore five iconic examples of investigative journalism and determine the impact of each.
  • I can explain the “watchdog role” of the press and describe its importance.

Essential questions

  • In what ways can a free press act like a watchdog on behalf of the public?
  • What are some of the most important examples of watchdog journalism in American history?
  • In what ways can investigative journalism bring about social or political change?


“In the United States, our shared freedoms occasionally come under attack. We, as journalists, have a responsibility to investigate and report any attempts by those in power to take away or limit those freedoms. This is the essence of the watchdog role. Sometimes, this means exposing wrongdoing by government officials. And other times, it’s about uncovering illegal or unethical practices by large corporations. It can even involve a news service exposing deceitful or harmful practices at another news organization. In many cases, investigative reporting requires tracking down information that someone is actively trying to hide. Sometimes, it takes a team of reporters years to gather and verify information before their stories see the light of day. The motto here at The Washington Post is ‘Democracy dies in darkness’ because without journalists shining a light on corruption, waste and abuse, the American people would be kept largely in the dark. They wouldn’t have the information they need to make informed decisions that hold powerful people and organizations accountable for their actions.”