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Before Reading

Identifying a Project Plan

Before the class reads Chapter 6, explain the racial and historical background of the hospital and the previous coverage. Divide the class into a manageable number of groups and instruct them to write a project proposal listing three major topics that their project would investigate. Emphasize the challenge of identifying a project proposal that will "advance the story" beyond what has already been written.

Reader Interests vs. Public Interests

Explain how Tracy Weber feared they were writing so many daily stories that the readers would be "sick of King/Drew" by the time the project team was ready to publish its five-part series.

1. Generate a discussion about how news organizations should respond when readers" interests in a subject may conflict with the journalism responsibility to decide what it needs to cover to carry out its fundamental public mission in a democratic society.

2. Discuss ways that the reporters could make the project appeal to those readers who might be "sick of the King/Drew story" without compromising journalistic standards.

Using Numbers

1. To give the class a lesson on using statistics accurately and carefully, generate a discussion about several of the statistics that the King/Drew project team used to show that the hospital was the among worst of the worst. For example, how can you fairly compare malpractice payouts among hospitals of different sizes; among hospitals that have emergency rooms and those that do not; and hospitals that serve affluent areas and those serving inner-city areas?

2. Divide the class into groups. Assign each group one or more statistical measures (i.e., expenditures per patient, malpractice settlement amount per patient), and instruct them to report and write a story comparing two hospitals in their area or state using the assigned statistical measure.

3. Drawing primarily from bulleted items in day one and day two stories, make a list of several key statistical findings and distribute it to the class. Explain that you want them to read the statistics and then propose some reporting strategies to humanize the numbers.

Shoe-Leather Reporting: The Johnnie Mae Williams Case

1. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate how reporters often must use ingenuity, persistence and sensitivity in finding and dealing with sources. Explain how King/Drew negligently and unnecessary performed a complete hysterectomy on patient Johnnie Mae Williams several years ago and that Tracy Weber does not know whether the hospital ever informed her about the error. Explain how Tracy Weber found the address of Johnnie Mae Williams" ex-husband and how she was fairly certain he was indeed the ex-husband. Williams has three children and Weber suspects he is the father. Go through each of the obstacles that Weber confronted at the ex-husband"s house and in the interview with Johnnie Mae Williams. At each obstacle, ask the class how they would deal with it. Although you can get as detailed as you wish, here are some suggested obstacles you can address to the class:

  • Weber"s encounter with the locked entry gate.
  • Standing at the door of the house in the pouring rain, Weber saw the lights of the house are turned off. Playing the role of Weber, knock on the table three times to simulate Weber knocking on the door. Explain that no one comes to the door and ask "What do you do now?" (Keep in mind Weber knocked about 10 times.). After you knock as long as the students tell you to keep trying, announce that it becomes apparent that either no one is home or no one is going to answer. Ask, "What should you try next?"
  • A man answers the door and says he doesn"t know a Johnnie Mae Williams. How do you respond?
  • After Weber pressed the man who answered the door, he finally acknowledged that he was Williams" ex-husband. But he said he hadn"t seen her in eight years and didn"t know where she was or how to reach her. How do you respond?
  • You drive back to the office realizing that there is only a 50"50 chance that he will convey your request to interview Johnnie Mae Williams. After two days, you don"t hear anything from her. What do you do?
  • Finally, Williams calls. Explain that Weber does not know whether Williams is aware that she never had cancer and that King/Drew needlessly performed a hysterectomy on her. Discuss the extent to which the reporter should explain her findings about the case to Williams.
  • Discuss the importance of in-person interviews.
  • Tell them that Weber senses Williams is emotionally vulnerable, because Williams explains she is living in an addiction recovery facility. With that information, Weber is concerned that revealing the tragic details of the case to Williams without using the utmost sensitivity could cause her to relapse. Explain that Williams asked Weber why she wants to talk about Williams" treatment at the hospital. Ask the students to discuss how they would respond.
  • Explain that Weber succeeds in getting the interview without revealing the nature of her questions until they meet in person. As Weber and Williams sit down to talk, ask students to discuss how to get to the point sensitively.
  • After Weber and Williams have fully discussed what happened to her at King/Drew, tell the class that Williams asked Weber for a few dollars so Williams could buy a few groceries and some personal hygiene items. How would the students respond to her request?

2. Instruct the class to pretend they get a tip that a prominent and well-respected doctor, who is the director of neuroscience, is drawing an enormous salary but working part time while officially reporting that he is working enormous hours. Assuming that the anecdote plays a very important role in a section of the story about laxity and absenteeism at the hospital, ask the class to discuss how they would try to verify the tip.

3. Discuss the value of individual case studies in stories about negligence in hospitals or in any other institution or government agency that purports to serve and protect the health, welfare and environment of the public.

4. Brainstorm ways reporters can identify former patients who were mistreated at a hospital.

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