Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Media Studies

First Advisor

David S. Allen

Committee Members

Thomas M. Malaby, Richard K. Popp


Ethnography, Investigative Journalism, Journalism, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, News, Newsroom


In the early 21st century, daily newspapers across the United States struggled with how to respond to economic and technological challenges. This thesis studies one newspaper's response to those challenges. Using ethnographic methods, it explores the Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel's transition to a watchdog-centric journal. The thesis suggests that the newspaper responded to economic and technological challenges by redefining news. However, that redefinition brought with it unforeseen problems both in the practice of journalism and the product that journalists produced. The redefinition increased tensions between watchdog and beat reporters, and between older, more experienced journalists and more tech-savvy, younger journalists. The redefinition also put a greater focus on government and its need to establish a villain. As a result of the paper's redefinition of news, the work of journalists became mainly about holding public institutions accountable, even in the cases of wrongdoing in the private sector. The thesis also found that while new technology makes it easier for journalists to engage with their audience, the journalists' ideas about the audience has changed little from what research discovered in previous studies. The thesis suggests that while redefining news to focus on watchdog-type stories is one attempt to respond to economic challenges, it brings with it challenges for the practice of journalism and for the news that the public receives on a daily basis.