The New York Times magazine this Sunday will feature a 13,000-word article that reveals the findings of a two-year investigation that was a joint venture between the Times and non-profit investigative organization ProPublica.
The piece’s author, Sheri Fink, details the stories of what happened to patients who died at New Orlean’s Memorial Medial Center after Hurricane Katrina. The lengthy story is something that we’re seeing less and less of in newspapers and consumer magazines (outside of the New Yorker, that is): long form journalism.
The death of the form can be contributed to the rise of the Internet and the shortening attention span of readers, but also the lack of money needed to fund such projects. The Times‘ Assistant Managing Editor Gerald Marzorati recently estimated that Fink’s piece cost around $400,000:
“One of ProPublica’s editors and I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation yesterday of what the total cost of the piece actually was, figuring in several years of reporting and nearly a year of editing. Estimate: $400,000.”
That’s why the Times partnership with an independent, not-for-profit organization like ProPublica is so notable. Hopefully, future joint ventures will allow long form journalism to thrive in the midst of a flailing economy.
Update: This Nieman Lab report claims Marzorati’s $400,000 estimate for this piece is an exaggeration, but that’s only because of help from ProPublica and other nonprofits, as well as Fink’s willingness to work on the story on her own as a freelancer for a few months, without compensation. Marzorati told Nieman Lab that his figure was based on what it would have cost to produce the entire piece in-house at the Times:
“My point, really, is simply this: Investigative reporting is very, very expensive.”
Although the article was set to be published in the Times magazine this weekend, ProPublica published it on its Web site yesterday along with some videos of Fink speaking about the project. Check out one of those videos below.
Strained by Katrina, a Hospital Faced Deadly Choices –New York Times Magazine