‘Washington Post’ to Publish Student Investigation Into National Transportation Safety Board

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By: E&P Staff

A major investigation into transportation safety in America — conducted by journalism students from 11 universities participating in the Carnegie-Knight Journalism Initiative in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity — will be published this week by The Washington Post and msnbc.com.

The 23-story multimedia package, which includes dozens of accompanying photos, videos and interactive graphics, is the work of News21, a journalism initiative funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami to promote in-depth and innovative journalism. CPI is a Washington-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

The News21/CPI investigation found that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal panel charged with investigating accidents and proposing ways to prevent them, has essentially given up on 1,952 of its safety recommendations — one of every six it has made since 1967. Federal agencies, states and transportation industries are taking longer than ever to act on NTSB recommendations; in the past decade, the average number of years to implement recommendations went from 3.4 to 5.4 years.

Among its other findings: More than 2,300 people have been killed from ice buildup on aircraft, problems on runways, faulty aircraft maintenance and repairs, and overtired pilots, despite dozens of NTSB recommendations to address those problems; the NTSB has issued 138 fatigue-related safety recommendations since 1967, and only 68 have been implemented; and for four decades, the NTSB has investigated accident after accident that investigators said could have been prevented with automated train control technology.
 
The News21 students were based at Arizona State University for 10 weeks this summer under the direction of faculty from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and CPI data researchers.

“Student journalists, with the right teachers, are capable of not just producing major investigative stories, but doing them in new, innovative ways,” Eric Newton, vice president of Knight Foundation’s journalism program, said in a statement. “By using their work, leading news organizations are agreeing that these schools indeed have something special to offer.”

The investigation was led by Kristin Gilger, a veteran editor and associate dean of the Cronkite School, and assisted by Cronkite faculty members Leonard Downie Jr., the former Washington Post executive editor who holds the Weil Professorship, Knight Chair Steve Doig, Cronkite News Service Director Steve Elliott and Dean Christopher Callahan. Michael Pell, the center’s deputy data editor, and staff writer Nick Schwellenbach provided data analysis and support.
 
“America’s transportation safety apparatus is badly broken,” Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, sad in a statement. “Recommendations ignored; cases closed without resolution. Our joint investigation clearly shows what’s wrong with the system. It’s mind-boggling to think how many lives could be saved if we just did things right.”

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