The Post-Kaiser Health News Collaboration
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 washingtonpost.com 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.
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