OLD Media Moves

Covering the GM airbag recall

November 19, 2014

Posted by Chris Roush

nytBob Goetz, assistant editor for the business desk of the New York Times, describes the all-hands-on-deck approach to presenting the months-long story on the greater impact of auto recalls by the paper in a Times Insider piece.

Goetz writes:

It was April, and for weeks, reporters including the Detroit bureau chief, Bill Vlasic, along with Hilary Stout, Danielle Ivory and Rebecca Ruiz, had been piercing the veil of secrecy around the faulty switch; their work revealed how G.M. and regulators failed to act on the problem until February, when the recall of 2.6 million cars began.

But the stories behind the 13 victims had yet to be fully told. Dean Murphy, the Business editor, wanted to write the most definitive account of the defect’s mounting human toll.

The idea was simple. The execution was anything but.

For weeks, Ms. Ivory and Ms. Ruiz had examined two federal databases maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in search of possible names. One database records every fatal auto accident in the country; the other reports every claim of defect a person or an insurance company makes to an automaker.

The databases, they found, are not compatible. Still, as Ms. Ivory recalled, she and Ms. Ruiz matched the partial information in each and learned a bit more about the accidents, including the ages and genders of all vehicle occupants, the counties in which the crashes occurred, the blood alcohol level of the drivers and whether the airbags deployed.

The reporters mined state death records, obituaries and news clips with the help of Kitty Bennett, a researcher, and were able to identify most of the victims by name and get in touch with family members by phone.

Read more here.

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