How Crowdsourcing Helped Bring Red Cross Problems to Light

The ability to reach a much wider universe of sources gives reporters a powerful new tool — if they know which questions to ask.


Over the past decade, journalistic innovators and reformers have eagerly awaited a future in which the wisdom of the crowd would identify potential subjects for investigative reporting. That hope was bolstered by some undeniable achievements. Thousands of volunteer software developers created programs like Linux and Firefox, used by millions of people. Volunteer authors created a dynamic, online encyclopedia – Wikipedia – that dwarfs any previous compendium of human knowledge. The "crowd" curates Kickstarter, a new means of steering small-dollar philanthropy to artistic and commercial projects. A plethora of websites bring us movie, product and restaurant reviews written by an army of amateur critics.


But the "hive" has been far less effective at identifying subjects for investigative reporting and the reasons why say a lot about the core challenges of deep-dive journalism.


The most important decision an investigative reporter makes, and the one that has the most effect on the outcome, is where to look. Sometimes the answer is as obvious as the headlines on Google News. An unarmed African-American teenager is shot in Ferguson, Mo. An oil platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. The economy melts down, throwing tens of millions of people out of work. Those stories cry out for more digging.


The stories we aim to cover at ProPublica – betrayals of public trust or abuses of power – have more typically arisen from obscure corners of government or business, unearthed by reporters with finely honed instincts for detecting potential wrongdoing.


Certainly we remain open to the idea that readers can send us in productive directions. From the very beginning, ProPublica has had an email address, [email protected], to which anyone can send ideas. Each one is reviewed by one or more of our editors. A handful of these have turned into ProPublica stories.


The crowd has proved immensely helpful in answering specific, direct questions. Our "Free the Files" project of 2012 harnessed the enthusiasm of volunteers to enter vast amounts of data about televised political ads. And our 2009 efforts to track the Obama administration's stimulus spending were greatly enhanced by the work of readers who uploaded contracts from their localities. Repeatedly, ProPublica's reporting on national stories like the delays in processing mortgage modifications or the epidemic of patient harm have been deepened by contributions from readers on the frontlines.


Our recent reporting on the Red Cross suggests the power of addressing a specific question to the crowd.


In April of this year, ProPublica published a brief story with this headline: "Long After Sandy, Red Cross Post-Storm Spending Still a Black Box: Donors gave $312 million after the storm, but it's not clear how exactly the money was spent."


The story was unusual for us: It focused on what we could not figure out, which was how the charity had spent the more than $300 million it had raised for the victims of Sandy. We added this simple sentence at the very end. "If you have experience with or information about the American Red Cross, including its operations after Sandy, email [email protected].


No super secret digital dropbox (though we have one of those, too.) No encryption. Just an email address that made it easy for people to get in touch with Justin Elliott, the reporter on the story along with Jesse Eisinger.


Over the next several months, tips began to flow in from present and former employees of the Red Cross, as well as others with firsthand information. This month, Elliott and Eisinger teamed up with NPR to produce a detailed story that included, among many details, a devastating internal report in which the Red Cross acknowledged botching the post-Sandy relief effort and diverting assets "for public relations purposes.''


Of course, this sort of reporting was invented long before the Internet. William Safire, the late New York Times columnist, used to throw sly references into his stories to entice cooperation from the handful of government officials who had his phone number. He called it "putting a note on the bulletin board.''


Today, that board is much larger and more easily shared with vast numbers of people. All you've got to do is ask the right question in the right way.


So, in closing, it's worth saying it one more time:


If you have information about the Red Cross you would like to share, you can help us report this story.




India Inc's weak financial health affecting banks' asset quality

According to Moody's, health of corporates in India, while having stabilised, continues to be fragile on an absolute basis with high debt levels and weak debt-servicing metrics


Ratings agency Moody's has said that asset quality of state-owned banks will continue to be burdened by weak financial health of Indian corporates.


"Although the asset quality of public sector banks may have hit a bottom, the recovery in corporate credit quality will take some time," the ratings agency said.


The non-performing assets of banks will continue to act as a drag on the bank's credit quality, it added.


In a release, Moody's vice president and senior analyst Srikanth Vadlamani said, "We expect net new non-performing loan (NPL) formation rates for public-sector banks to be lower than those observed over the last three years, while the impaired loan ratio may stabilise at current levels."


The agency said that over the next two years new NPL formation rates would witness a gradual decline


It said the health of corporates in India, while having stabilised, continues to be fragile on an absolute basis with high debt levels and weak debt-servicing metrics.


"This is particularly relevant for public sector banks, which have a higher share of corporate loans in their loan books than private sector banks," it said.


Moody's expects that Indian corporates will increase their deleveraging efforts, as conducive market conditions make it easier to raise equity and sell assets.


However, despite the favourable market conditions, it will take at least 2-3 years for a meaningful reduction in leverage owing to the high debt levels, it said, adding that the PSU banks will continue to have a high level of credit.


"This will constrain their internal capital generation and make them dependent on external capital infusion to increase their low capital levels," Moody's added.



MG Warrier

3 years ago


Complaint against Wockhardt Hospitals' ad upheld by ASCI

ASCI ruled that the Wockhardt ad, which appeared in September in Mumbai Mirror, was misleading and against the MCI code of ethics.


The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), on the 5th of November, ruled on Moneylife Foundation's complaint against an advertisement by Wockhardt Hospitals. ASCI upheld the complaint and advised the advertiser to withdraw or modify the ad if they did not wish to appeal the decision of the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC)


The complaint refers to an advertisement put out by Wockhardt in Mumbai Mirror that said, “the best in healthcare meets the best in Bariatric Surgery.” Other than the completely unverifiable headline, the print ad had other claims that went against various rules and ethical guidelines.


The ad said that a new doctor had joined the hospital, a certain Dr Bhandari. The ad says, “Dr Bhandari is here to treat, educate and operate upin obese and diabetic patients through Bariatric surgery.” As the CCC reported in its findings, the Doctor's registration certificate ended up showing only an MBBS degree. This would mean that either he performs surgeries without an MS (Masters in Surgery) or he does not have one and does not perform surgeries at all!

At the outset, the complaint said that the ad violated the ASCI code of conduct for medical practitioner. Secondly, Moneylife's complaint said that according to Clause 6.1 of the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Regulations 2002, a doctor cannot solicit patients, and hence would it be correct for hospitals to do so in the name of a doctor? Clause 6.1 states that, “Soliciting of patients directly or indirectly, by a physician, by a group of physicians or by institutions or organisations is unethical.”


Moneylife's complaint stated that claiming yourself to be the “Best in healthcare” or “Best in bariatric surgery” was wrong on the part of the hospital. There would be no way to evaluate such claims and the ad did not offer any substantiation of these claims itself.


The complaint had also pointed out that bariatric surgery is a serious matter and that it had even led to deaths in some cases, most famous being the case of the Maharaja of Mysore, who developed more complications after he underwent a bariatric surgery in 2010. He died on 10 December 2013 due to Septicemia and lung infection that he developed after undergoing Liposuction procedure. Advertising of medicines and healthcare services has been a major issue with the ASCI, where lives are at stake and often the patients' long term health.


The CCC concluded that the claim that Wockhardt was the 'best in healthcare' or that Dr Bhandari was the best in bariatric surgery, could not be verified in any way. The CCC also agreed that the ad was in violation of Clause 6.1 of the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Regulations 2002.


The CCC order cited Chapter 1.1 of the ASCI guidelines, which states that all claims made in ads must be truthful and should be possible to be substantiated. While the CCC does leave the advertiser the option to appeal or show how their claims in the ad were true, it is unlikely that such a claim can be substantiated.


The CCC order also says that the ad is against Chapter 1.4 of the guidelines too. This clause says that an ad must not distort facts or mislead the consumer. With the fact coming to light about the advertised doctor's qualifications to be advertised as a surgeon, this becomes and even more serious case.



Professor Dr BM Hegde

3 years ago

Thank you Sucheta.

Professor Dr BM Hegde

3 years ago

These days direct and indirect advertisements by doctors and corporate hospitals have become the norm rather than exception. Why single out one hospital?

In fact, at one stage the Royal College of Surgeons of England had put a moratorium on Bariatric surgery. I am sure this surgery will die a natural death eventually after killing many, many more patients like Mysore Maharaja.

This operation is against nature's laws. That apart the gut is the vital part of the human immune system. If you alter its physiology you are going to get into serious short term and long term consequences. Immune depression with fatal infections is the most dangerous.

If one recapitulates medical history in the 1950s and 60s Gastro-jejunostomy and partial gastrectomy were the till- movers for surgeons and hospitals. They led to protean long term problems and now one does not hear about them. I am sure Bariatric surgery will find its place in the dust bin. Sooner that happens the better for patients.

As you get out of the aircraft in Ahamadabad at the entrance to the baggage area there is a huge board claiming that Bariatric surgery is best in one hospital there. This has been there for months without anyone noticing that it is unethical. Some eye hospitals are daily advertising in the electronic media that they are there for any of your eye problems. (Hum Hai Na)

Corporate hospitals defy all ethical norms, but who bothers? If the MCI had the guts to close down all such hospitals there will be no corporate hospitals left in India. Then politicians will say that it is bad for the country. In fact, it will be the happiest day for the nation. Hospitals and doctors DO NOT keep society healthy anyway!

A Citizen


Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to Professor Dr BM Hegde 3 years ago

Dear Prof Hegde

Thank you for writing and commenting on this piece. In fact, I personally filed the complaint about Wockhardt.
I did it because I saw it and was outraged.

Had I travelled to Ahmedabad and seen the advertisement, I would have clicked a photograph on my mobile phone and sent a complaint to ASCI about this too.

Things will change when citizens act to stop wrong doing and misinformation. I wish readers in Ahmedabad are inspired to file a complaint .

Today, filing a complaint with ASCI is extremely easy and can be done online. The code is available online and it also engages with people through Facebook. A specific complaint with proof works wonders -- it eliminates the feeling that one hospital is singled out.

When more of us get alert and active even the MCI will have to pay heed.


Simple Indian

3 years ago

And besides this advt, there are advts on certain FM Radio stations these days by "doctors" of the "South Mumbai" Wockhardt Hospital stating how they honour their Hippocratic Oath. What hypocrisy !

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