Tapping Specialized Expertise

In some instances, journalists recognize that they have gaps in knowledge that are hard to fill with standard reporting techniques. Sometimes that’s because data may be buried in privacy policies or trade-secret lockboxes.

As ProPublica developed its “Patient Safety” series, it particularly tapped a sub-group of health care providers to help it develop its Surgeon Scorecard.36 The scorecard calculated death and complication rates for surgeons performing one of eight elective procedures under Medicare.

Several public broadcasters have been in the vanguard of using crowdsourcing to gather health care data from individual consumers. Most recently, KQED in San Francisco, KPCC in Los Angeles, and WHYY in Philadelphia asked hundreds of listeners to share specific prices they paid for certain medical procedures. The results helped others in those cities compare prices that different providers charged.(Read more on the Tow Center’s blog about the newsrooms’ partnerships with ClearHealthCosts.com, which was founded by Jeanne Pinder, a co-author of this report.)

When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) landed massive troves of leaked documents that were too big for one news organization to analyze alone, they tapped members around the world to leverage their knowledge of local individuals and entities whose names appeared in the data. “Maybe we would call it a more structured kind of crowdsourcing,” said ICIJ deputy director Marina Walker Guevara. “We take steps to carefully select our crowd.”

ICIJ’s first big disclosure, Offshore Leaks, published in April 2013, involved 100 journalists from 60 countries examining 2.5 million records of some 130,000 offshore accounts, according to a case study of the initiative.37 The stories made transparent who owned covert companies and private trusts, often used to dodge taxes. ICIJ later put some of the information in a public database, subsequently used by more than 400 reporters to develop their own stories. ICIJ went on to develop two more initiatives—Lux Leaks and Swiss Leaks—with selective crowdsourcing from scores of journalists.38

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