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The Post-Kaiser Health News Collaboration

By Andy Alexander

The Post’s controversial “salons” idea, where pricey sponsorships were sought for off-the-record dinners involving journalists, stemmed from an urgent need to generate revenue. Surely more money-making ideas will emerge -- hopefully better conceived -- to help stabilize the finances of the newspaper, which has been operating in the red.

But as The Post searches for new revenue, it also is searching for new ways to stretch its coverage at a time when newsroom staffing is being reduced and budgets are under stress.

Enter Kaiser Health News, an independent news operation that is part of a new trend in daily journalism. Increasingly, newspapers are forming content partnerships with foundation-financed news services.

Ethical sensors should perk up whenever an established newspaper like The Post thinks about teaming up with an outside group. But in this case -- as with The Post’s collaboration with another nonprofit-based news organization, ProPublica -- it passes the test.

So far this year, The Post has run a handful of Kaiser Health News stories. At the bottom of each is this:

This story was produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN is a service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

“Transparency is my goal in this and everything else we do,” said Frances Stead Sellers, The Post’s health editor.

KHN has a stable of top-notch and respected health care editors and reporters that includes Sandra Boodman, a former Post reporter who took one of the newspaper’s buyouts, and former politics editor Eric Pianin.

A key to the relationship is that The Post maintains full editorial control. Sometimes The Post will pitch a story to KHN. But more often, Sellers said, Kaiser will offer ideas. “Even after I express interest and they tailor to my local needs,” she said, “I don’t have to run it.”

When stories arrive at The Post, they have been edited by KHN. But they then go through The Post’s own editing process. When a story appears in The Post, the byline clearly identifies the reporter as being with Kaiser Health News.

Adding an extra level of comfort is the fact that the National Advisory Committee for KHN is chaired by former Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., who now is a vice president at large for the newspaper. The committee includes a number of other respected names in journalism, including Knight Foundation president and CEO Alberto Ibarguen, Poynter Institute president Karen Dunlap, University of Maryland journalism school dean and former NPR president Kevin Klose and Tom Rosenstiel, who directs the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Sellers said she is not troubled by the fact that the Kaiser Foundation, which funds KHN, has had a long-standing involvement in health care reform, although not as an advocate.

“It’s hard to find anyone, Republican or Democrat, who doesn’t think the health care system needs fixing,” she said. “They differ, of course, on how.” But she said none of the KHN stories appearing in The Post have suggested an agenda.

The Kaiser Family Foundation was established in 1948 by the late industrialist Henry J. Kaiser and his wife. Kaiser had amassed a fortune from shipbuilding during World War II, and it grew later when he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel.

After the war, Kaiser created Kaiser Permanente health care for his employees and the Kaiser Family Foundation was part of it. But, eventually, the foundation became an independent entity.

The distinction from Kaiser Permanent is especially important in the immediate aftermath of the “salons” controversy. Kaiser Permanent had verbally agreed to sponsor the first “salon dinner,” although it never signed a contract.

By Andy Alexander  | July 17, 2009; 4:37 PM ET
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You have got to be kidding me...Is there no one else that could provide this service?

Posted by: d1carter | July 17, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

It may be a good idea to shop around before you sign on the dotted line. I checked out Kaiser's website, and "BIAS", comes to mind.

They will "PIMP", the Post for the Good of the CONSERVATIVE AGENDA. Judging by some of the Columnist of the Post, they will feel right at home.


Posted by: austininc4 | July 17, 2009 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I have written to you several times (with no satisfactory reply) about the Post's abysmal coverage of the content, the basic facts of health care. Here is a paragraph from my last message to you:

My basic complaint is that the Post has not done anything to educate the American public on the basic facts. In the past, the Post has been famous for its investigations and analysis. That's what I would like to see here. Here are two examples. I would hope to see an article or a series of article comparing our health care system with those in other wealthy countries. You could examine such issues as rationing, wait times, cost, outcomes, etc. I would also think it is important to investigate the waste in our own system. How much money goes to overhead of the private insurers? Are physician and patient compliance costs significant? How much is spent by BIG Pharma on marketing. What is the purpose of this marketing and how is it done?

Furthermore, this lack of coverage has been documented by FAIR (

If you go to the Kaiser WEB site, you will see that they have the same lack of coverage. Why should we expect that this alliance will do anything other than perpetuate the Post's support of the private health care industry?

Posted by: lensch | July 18, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

It sound to me as if your printed newspaper is becoming just a dead-tree blog.

Posted by: bmschumacher | July 19, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

KAISER?!? Oh, and we should feel better because DOWNIE is one of their shills?

You have GOT to be kidding.

Except unfortunately I know you're not because the Bushington Post sold out a long, long time ago.

Posted by: solsticebelle | July 19, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

WaPo we know how this works. We've watched enough ABC News "reporting" on Walt Disney to know what happens when a news organization partners with industry.

I'm sure I can find honest information about heath care elsewhere.

BTW, I once had Kaiser for 12 months during the 90s... never again. When I went to receive health care, they stuck me with an LPN (instead of a doctor) who delivered scorn along with a prescription (screw you Daisy). Anyone that can chose health insurance other than Kaiser usually does.

Posted by: Super_Grover | July 20, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The fact that this even passed a smell test goes to show how bad things smell around this paper now. How stupid does the Post think it's readers are (the ones that are left)? No matter how well they say it, no one with half a brain is going to believe that the "Kaiser Family Foundation" is going to run a story or present a view that hurts Kaiser Permanente. So the Post now officially shills for the insurance industry. Too bad the lowly readers of the Post can't afford to pay to have coverage that benefits the average person and not large companies.

Posted by: TheCaptainDamnIt | July 20, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The blog says, I signed in. In reality I logged in. Dead tree blog, get it? I'm logging out. Keep rolling and signing. And smiling!

Posted by: Dermitt | July 20, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

What a terrible disappointment this story is.
It's another story that undermines the integrity of this once-great newspaper, one more time.
And it's sad.
"The Post maintains full editorial control. ...
But more often, Sellers said, Kaiser will offer ideas. ...
When stories arrive at The Post, they have been edited by KHN.
But they then go through The Post’s own editing process. ...
the National Advisory Committee for KHN is chaired by former Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. ...
After the war, Kaiser created Kaiser Permanente health care for his employees and the Kaiser Family Foundation was part of it. But, eventually, the foundation became an independent entity.
Explain to us just how KHN became independent from Kaiser Permanente Healthcare?
And what is the difference (see the last paragraph) between "Kaiser Permanente" and "Kaiser Permanent" which bought a table at the first projected salon right off the bat.
This column is supposed to reassure your readers about journalistic integrity?
Well, sorry.
Anything but.
Here we are in the middle of the most profound healthcare debate and legislative effort in 50 years and suddenly, "independently" (yeah, sure), this little notification piece comes across our website?
We're supposed to be comfortable with this alliance?
This puts me in mind of the turnover by the British to the Chinese of Hong Kong.
I stayed up all night to watch the turnover on television.
The moment the papers were signed, the British ambassador left by boat for a ship in the harbor, pale as a white sheet.
Meanwhile, television views of all the bridges into Hong Kong (and they are numerous) revealed Chinese tanks and soldiers marching into the city on all sides.
All done without firing a shot.
It made my skin crawl.
Some months later, Andy, while working as a volunteer docent at our National Preserve, a couple arrived from Hong Kong.
I told him I'd watched the turnover on TV.
He assured me *nothing had changed* -- the city was still as charming as ever.
That evening, when I returned home, I got on the Internet to read the news and there was a report from the Associated Press:
The publisher and editor of Hong Kong's largest newspaper had been arrested and jailed that day because the government was unhappy with the stories running in his paper.
And, the paper had been shut down.
That's kind of how I feel right now, reading this piece.
So explain to me how this alliance is different.
Neither inspire confidence in integrity.
Can you see what I'm saying?
The hackles on the back of my neck are rising.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | July 21, 2009 3:45 AM | Report abuse

I think I'd shut GM down before I ran out and started shutting down any newspapers, all because they made the government miserable. AIG is getting another bonus round. It's like a TV game show. The Price Is Wrong and tell him what he's won. Insurance is like paying for catastrophe on the installment plan. Now the insurance is the catastrophe. Now the morons want to stop the presses. Gloom is my business and business is good.

Posted by: Dermitt | July 21, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight: Congress is considering the biggest change to national health care since the advent of Medicare, and the Post has just now started cooperatively producing news stories on health with one of the country's biggest health care providers.

Two of the really important decisions an editor makes are: "What do leave in" and "What to leave out." Since Kaiser is taking out everything they do not want to see published, how does the Post ensure that relevant, important information is restored once Kaiser has deleted it?

Think about it: if Karl Rove had been given the first crack at editing stories about Dubya in the Washington Post, how much "missing content" could the Post editors have restored once Onkel Karl had handed over a "finished" story?

I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that the Post is outsourcing newsgathering to organizations with a vested interest in the outcome of the national debate, or the fact that Post ombudsman thinks it is a good idea.

Posted by: Pablo01 | July 21, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander, it may pass YOUR test, but that doesn't mean anything. To anybody.

Posted by: tresangelas | July 22, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Having read this latest and insultingly simplistic Post rationalization concerning its new alliance with a Kaiser unit,I'm the one who is sick.

My first warning signs, deep in my gut, began to grow steadily worse a short while ago with each additional Post explanation of an innocent dinner party, alas, poorly presented by a new associate, but abruptly cancelled once exposed beyond the lucky paying invitees.
"Hmm", I reasoned through my first symptoms of something going very wrong,"if an owner and senior editors think this simplistic pap will assuage their readers after this ACCIDENTAL revelation of a serious deviation from honorable journalism practices, practices WP readers once trusted and assumed, then what is their true attitude toward all current Post reporting and analysis?"

Ouch! With this Kaiser piece, I have my answer. Now I'm really ill and I don't think the WP feels my pain.

I feel as sick and as lost as the Post itself must be to offer this simplistic and insulting explanation of how Kaiser articles will come to the Post pre-edited, though, of course, Dear Readers, the Post editors can still scan through articles even though there will be no Post assigned, responsible reporters to be asked to expand or probe further "their" writing.

Com'on. Post reporters won't have written anything!

Am I to understand that the Post's decision makers are so naive as to not know that a piece on health issues printed under their banner will not be assumed by their readers to be a WP piece, with all the trust in its preparation and presentation that was, untill recently, the paper's hallmark?

Just why does the Post think Kaiser was willing to pay them real money to take prepared pieces of Kaiser's choosing!
Why does Kaiser want to write these pieces and get them out to the public under another banner?
Think, you People of the Post!

Oh, yes there'll be that wonderful little tag line in smaller print at the end, not the beginning, of each article.
Should I begin feel all better now?

What an extraordinary time to sell the soul, the integrity, and the trust of a once fine paper.
I wonder if an admission of the severity of the looming financial consequences and a public promise by the WP to retain an honest core, no matter how radical or harsh the inevitable alterations, would have rallied readership.

And would that be enough to save the Post and the rest of the best of our essential free press?
Or is this really about our losing our great print voices? Is this week's rationalization and our wail just a symptom of the unthinkable to come?
Are we shortly to be a democracy trying to function without a skilled and honorable free press?
If so, Kaiser's prepackaged articles and sponsored dinners won't save The Washington Post or us.
And that could be a terminal diagnosis.

Posted by: RiitFrost | July 24, 2009 6:15 AM | Report abuse

Pablo01 wrote: "I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that the Post is outsourcing newsgathering to organizations with a vested interest in the outcome of the national debate, or the fact that Post ombudsman thinks it is a good idea." and he hit the nail on the head!

Readers looking for NEWS coverage are no longer your customers...Kaiser corp looking for readers is now your customer. What a pitiful charade that the Post still markets itself as a newspaper.

Posted by: las100 | July 25, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

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