August 10, 2009

Hospitals don’t report deadly errors — but Hearst does

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Hearst Newspapers takes on deadly hospital errors in a comprehensive package today called “Dead by Mistake.” The package shows how breakdowns and lack of consistency in hospital error reporting around the country contribute to thousands of avoidable deaths and injuries. Sure, people make mistakes, but the crime is in not figuring out how to prevent them, and no one can figure that out if the institutions don’t own up to their errors.

The Hearst team, led by principal writers Eric Nalder, senior enterprise reporter at Hearst Newspapers, and Cathleen F. Crowley, medical writer of the Albany Times Union, ultimately involved some 35 people at news institutions around the country as well as a class of graduate journalism students at Columbia University.

The stories today are a great example of how collaborative journalism can produce a sum greater than its parts. Some of the cases examined in the series had been previously reported as isolated stories in newspapers in various communities. They are the kinds of stories readers with ever-shorter attention spans gasp at then quickly forget. But read them again, all together, and in the context of what the Hearst team dug up, and they become leverage for change.

In a climate of shrinking newsroom resources where it’s increasingly difficult for any one organization to produce in-depth investigations, it’s this kind of example-setting reporting that should get notice and make a difference.

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