Tonight on All Things Considered, correspondent Howard Berkes has another break in the continuing NPR News Investigation into the fatal April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. He's reporting that two officials from Massey Energy were underground unsupervised for four hours after the blast and traveled nine miles. The full story will soon be at the NPR News Investigations page.
It's an exciting time for this type of reporting at NPR. We opened our first dedicated Investigative Unit in January, and quickly started breaking – and making – news. The Unit has reported on traumatic brain injury ("TBI") in the military, sexual assaults on college campuses, the complexity of the bail bonds system and Mexico's rigged war on drugs. It's also been integral to our aggressive coverage of the Gulf spill and its aftermath.
This renewed commitment got the attention of the American Journalism Review. In the article "NPR Gears Up" for its Fall 2010 issue (previewed today online), AJR's Mary Walton writes about the changed tenor – focusing on a recent series on TBI reported by Danny Zwerdling in partnership with ProPublica reporter T. Christian Miller:
The two reporters were not the first to explore TBI, but no one had done it more forcefully. In a display of broadcasting prowess, for a week, it seemed, nearly every NPR venue resonated with their reporting. Zwerdling wrote in an e-mail interview that the rollout was planned by Weiss, Meyer and Reber, who "were determined to report our stories from every angle we could – dare I use the word from every 'platform' we could?" Radio versions, Web versions, a video featuring a soldier, plus blog follow-ups "were all part of the strategy, and we consciously made the stories in each of those versions complementary but different. I think that was one of the best parts of this project: we tailored the reporting to each medium, so we had lots of stories out there, all on different facets of the military's failures to grapple well with TBI."
For Zwerdling, his is one tale with a happy ending in the scorched landscape of American journalism. "This is the first time ever, and I've been here since 1980, that the top management starting with the president has said this is one of the most important things we're going to do. We're going to dig, and we're going to investigate."
Read the full AJR piece.
Anna Christopher is a senior manager for media relations at NPR.