On Sunday the New York Times magazine will publish a 13,000 word article (already online here) on events at Memorial Medical Center following Hurricane Katrina that took two years and $400,000 to produce, ten times that of the average price of NYT magazine cover stories. It is a project which might not be conceivable for a newspaper to undertake alone in these times of financial difficulty, and indeed the NYT did not go it alone: the article was produced in collaboration with nonprofit investigative journalism outlet ProPublica and with financing from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Dr Sheri Fink, author of the article, is a ProPublica staff reporter and she and her editors met with the Times magazine last summer to discuss publication of the story. As Times magazine editor Gerald Marzorati notes, "this is not the first collaboration between ProPublica and The Times, but it is the biggest such undertaking." The article was edited by both ProPublica and the Times, passing through "the magazine's normal editing process," Marzorati specified.
The article's topic is an important and particularly pertinent one given the current debate over healthcare in the US, even though the events it discusses took place four years ago. Fink reports on allegations of euthanasia at the Memorial Medical Center in the aftermath of the disaster, a hospital where more patients died than at any other comparable-size institution in the city. At 13,000 words it is a long read and one more likely to be finished in print than online, although ProPublica has provided interactive graphics and a timeline on its site to complement the reporting. In short, it is an impressive piece that highlights the need for good quality investigative journalism.
The way it was produced, however, also highlights the value of collaboration between traditional media organisations and newer types of outlets. ProPublica's nonprofit structure with a significantly large foundation, coupled with its pure focus on investigative reporting, allows it to fund stories that newspapers might not be able to afford. Its commitment to offering these (at no cost) to news organisations means that its articles get the attention they deserve. Could such a collaborative model become more widespread, as more and more public interest journalism nonprofits appear?