The future of investigative reporting?

propublica_20090831If you looked closely, you may have noticed that the cover story of the New York Times Magazine yesterday — a long, harrowing examination of accusations that the staff of a New Orleans hospital euthanized several patients following Hurricane Katrina — was a collaboration with ProPublica, a non-profit investigative-reporting foundation.

According to Zachary Seward of the Nieman Journalism Lab, the 13,000-word story may have cost as much as $400,000 (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration) to produce — a huge chunk for the Times, but in this case the paper spent nothing: a grant from the Kaiser Foundation paid for much of the reporting. It’s the sort of alternative funding model that may help to ensure the future of investigative journalism.

The story, by ProPublica’s Sheri Fink, is available not only on the Times’ Web site, but also at And starting Sept. 29, anyone can run it for free as long as proper attribution is provided.

Fink’s investigation centers on Dr. Anna Pou, a cancer specialist who may have killed several patients who, in her judgment, were near the end of their lives and could not be rescued. As with much good investigative reporting, the story is inconclusive, yet absolutely riveting in describing the despair that had settled over Memorial Medical Center — sweltering, without power and all but abandoned.

Implicit is that regardless of Pou’s actions, the real blame should be laid at the feet of incompetent government officials who abandoned New Orleans to its fate for days on end.