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After Reading

Watchdog Reporting

1. The day five story says there is plenty of blame to go around for the trouble at King/Drew. In one hard-hitting passage, reporter Mitchell Landsberg wrote: "There have been bureaucrats too timid to tell their superiors the truth. Hospital administrators who downplayed problems. Department heads who tolerated lax discipline. State legislators and members of Congress who stood in the way of change. Regulators and accreditors who balked at sanctions." Yet the stories did not identify the blameworthy officials in those agencies. Instead, the project chose to focus almost entirely on the failure of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the elected body that owns the medical center, and the black community, for allowing the deadly problems to fester for three decades. That was a conscious decision by the Times. Discuss the fairness of it.

2. By not exploring how and why the regulatory agencies failed to do their jobs, did the paper, despite the volume of space it devoted to the project, fail to hold those agencies accountable?

3. If the paper had decided to thoroughly explore each regulatory agency"s failings, what impact would that have had on the power and focus of the story?

4. For homework, assign half the class to read day one and the other half to read day two. Instruct the students to identify at least three broad conclusions that the stories make and to be prepared to explain in class how the stories supported those conclusions and the sources of information the reporters used.

5. The reporters made concerted efforts to obtain interviews with prominent political and neighborhood leaders in the black community to discuss findings that it often obstructed the Board of Supervisors" efforts to overhaul the hospital. If students had the opportunity to interview U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters or community leader Lillian Mobley about the stories, what would they ask them?

Objectivity

1. Assign the class to read day five of the project and identify passages where the reporter comes close to stepping over the line between reporting conclusions based on fact and expressing an opinion. Did he step over the line? Does the project provide hard evidence to support some of the sweeping, close-to-the-line statements that the reporter makes on the authority of the evidence in the project?

2. Discuss the controversial notion of objective reporting by asking the students to give their opinions on the meaning of objectivity. Discuss the dictionary definition of objectivity. Discuss objectivity and its relationship to the scientific method.

3. Is objectivity important in writing editorials and columns?

4. Although a black reporter was assigned to the project initially, the paper did not replace him when he resigned to take another job. Discuss whether or not the paper should have assigned another black journalist to the project.

Accuracy

In the writing phase, note how often the drafts underwent rewrites and editing, followed by new rewrites and more editing. Discuss the danger of errors creeping into the story from such repeated editing. Ask the class to identify methods to ensure that the final version is free of mistakes that may have been unintentionally edited into the story.

Writing

1. After much debate, the reporters and editors chose to lead day one with the Dunia Tasejos anecdote for several specific reasons. Because Weber said they experimented with every section of the day one story as an opening, pick several different segments of the story, assign one to each student, and instruct them to write a 10- to 15-paragraph opening. It does not matter whether students who receive the same assignment work together or separately. Discuss why the Dunia Tasejos opening may have been chosen over others.

2. Discuss the meaning of being fair and balanced and analyze those subjects in relation to the writing in the King/Drew story.

Beat Reporting vs. Investigative Reporting

How is a project like covering a beat and how is covering a beat like investigating a project?

Investigative Projects and Beat Reporting"s Failures

Although the Los Angeles Times had written about the problems at King/Drew over the years, including the production of a big investigative project in 1989, the troubles at King/Drew persisted. Discuss whether the paper did all it should have done in years past.

Essay Questions

1. Describe the ideal investigative reporting partnership.

2. From the perspective of an investigative reporter, how would you describe the ideal project editor?

3. What is the difference between identifying findings and conclusions in a story and expressing an opinion in an editorial?

4. Drawing on the lessons learned from the preceding chapter, identify at least five general steps that you think would apply to almost any investigation.

5. Based on the personalities, attributes and backgrounds of the reporters in this book, write an essay describing the profile of an investigative reporter.

6. How would you describe an investigative mentality?

7. In what ways can every reporter be an investigative reporter on a daily basis?

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