Investigative story: $400,000? Investigative journalism: Priceless?

A New York Times editor’s off-the-cuff estimate that a recent NYT magazine cover story cost almost $400,000 to report and edit is sparking wonderment and head-scratching in the journalism community. The story, produced in collaboration with ProPublica, dug into allegations of mass euthenasia at a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. A piece published by the Neiman Journalism Lab called it “a new datapoint” in the debate about the cost of quality journalism. Mother Jones admiringly cited it as a telling example of what institutional journalism can do and bloggers can’t. Editors Weblog wondered:

“Even if the story is a great work that has the potential to make a difference, is it a reasonable amount of money to spend on one piece – could more have been done with it for that cost? Or is that simply the price of good investigative journalism?”