WLRN Radio and the Miami Herald have been collaborating on multiplatform news production for eight years, but the investigative-reporting package that they published this month, “Neglected to Death,” took their partnership to a new level. The package of radio reports by WLRN’s Kenny Malone and articles by Herald reporters grew out of a year-long computer-assisted reporting project that revealed systemic failings in the regulation of Florida’s assisted-living facilities. Over several months, Malone followed up on the Herald investigative team’s findings of incidents of negligence and abuse to produce two character-driven radio features, the first of which aired locally and on NPR’s Morning Edition. Malone’s first piece focused on the case of Aurora Navas, an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient and facility resident who wandered outdoors one night without supervision and drowned in 18 inches of water. It was one of many accidental deaths for which Florida regulators failed to probe or prosecute.
Nonprofit fundraising arms of the state-owned network in West Virginia and the school-board-operated stations in Miami are under fire as public officials scrutinize longstanding financial relationships that underpin their operations. West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Miami’s WLRN-FM/TV, like many other public radio and TV operations owned by state and local governments, rely on sister nonprofits, often called Friends groups, to raise as much as 40 percent of their annual budgets. These private 501(c)(3) nonprofits around the country differ in many details but typically have separate governing boards and sometimes their own staffs.
A major reason for their existence is also cause for the complaints: They give pubcasters more flexibility and speed in purchasing and contracting than government procedures usually permit and they can pay for programming or other mission-related activities that the stations couldn’t otherwise afford. Friends of WLRN, for example, was able to contribute funding to continue the station’s editorial partnership with the Miami Herald when the newspaper’s new owners were cutting costs in 2008, according to Janet Altman, chair of the friends group.