Tag Archives: public relations

Study: Good press releases contribute to good health journalism

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Thanks to Gary Schwitzer for drawing attention to a study, published in BMJ, which analyzes the impact medical journal press releases have on actual press coverage of studies.

The authors begin with a somewhat gratifying hypothesis, writing that “Although it is easy to blame journalists for poor quality reporting, problems with coverage could begin with the journalists’ sources,” and positing that difficult-to-decipher studies and misleading press releases could lead to low-caliber health reporting.

They looked at 100 studies from five major journals, as well as a sample of 348 news stories based on those studies. In general they found that higher-quality press releases led to higher-quality coverage. Unfortunately, they also found that the inverse was true. Here’s an excerpt from the “Discussion” subheading (also highlighted by Schwitzer).

…Higher quality press releases issued by medical journals were associated with higher quality reporting in subsequent newspaper stories. In fact, the influence of press releases on subsequent newspaper stories was generally stronger than that of journal abstracts. Fundamental information such as absolute risks, harms, and limitations was more likely to be reported in newspaper stories when this information appeared in a medical journal press release than when it was missing from the press release or if no press release was issued. Furthermore, our data suggest that poor quality press releases were worse than no press release being issued: fundamental information was less likely to be reported in newspaper stories when it was missing from the press release than where no press release was issued at all.

Reporters looking for a Health News Review-style “how do I ensure my story clears their quality bar?” checklist can just scroll down to the “Quality Assessment” subheading. For the record, the metrics found there apply equally well to the PR professionals who write the releases.

Peck reports another questionable PR pitch

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

In the wake of the discussion over whether public relations folks should offer money to journalists to serve on focus groups for pharmaceutical companies, MedPage Today Executive Editor Peggy Peck writes about a story pitch she recently received via email.

In this case, the PR person offers to set up an interview, record it and then send it to Peck. Sounds like a pretty helpful offer, right? Well, as Peck says, “I would say beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The email then goes on to suggest questions she might ask in the interview. And, to top it off, the PR person’s signature says the interview will be “provided” by a pharmaceutical company.

See Peck’s post for excerpts from the email and her reaction.

Related

PR rep says journalists’ stipend to attend Allergan event was misconstrued

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

An invitation to journalists to participate in an Allergan-hosted “Facial Aesthetics Advisory Panel” that included an offer of a $250 stipend was misconstrued, according to the public relations representative who sent it.

Sarah Smedley, of Chandler Chicco Companies, said the panel was intended to be “in the nature of a focus group.”

The agency, which sent the invitation to 10 freelancers, wanted the journalists to tell them what types of questions their readers have. Smedley characterized the questions they would put to journalists as broad and not product-specific. Allergan manufactures Botox, Juvederm and Latisse.

They chose freelancers because they have a broad view and write for multiple outlets, according to Smedley. “There was no intention to get stories or coverage; we wanted to listen.”

Two journalists have accepted the invitation but one of them has declined the stipend, she said. “We expected a few to come to participate as experts in the media.”

AHCJ member Lisa Collier Cool shared the invitation with AHCJ, saying she considers this “an all-time low in drug company promotion to the media.”

Karl Stark, AHCJ’s vice president, said the organization’s board of directors was alarmed by the offer.

“We report all the time on the potential conflicts of interest that money creates between drug companies and doctors,” said Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “How would this be any different?”

AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.
  • Weigh the potential benefits involved in accepting fees, honoraria, free travel, paid expenses from organizers of conferences or events against the desire to preserve our credibility with the audience and the need to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“We really regret that Lisa [Collier Cool] misconstrued this,” Smedley said. “The allegation that it was a bribe took my breath away.”

Smedley, who said she has worked in health care public relations for about 15 years, said she was “disappointed that Lisa wouldn’t have called, reached out somehow … for more information.”

She said the invitation has been “misconstrued terribly wrong and out of proportion.”

When asked if she is aware of journalists’ codes of ethics, she replied, “We’re highly aware and we respect journalists and their code of ethics.” She said she also observes the PRSA’s code of ethics.

She does not believe their invitation was unethical and her agency will “conduct focus groups and adhere to codes of ethics, as we’ve always done.” This is the first focus group of this kind for Allergan.

A spokeswoman for Allergan told Forbes’ Matthew Herper that the stipend was “for their participation in a three-hour meeting as a means to compensate them for their time, nothing more.”

PR professional offers cash for attending Allergan-hosted event

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Journalist Lisa Collier Cool was “truly appalled” to receive an email that offered her a $250 stipend if she would attend a “Facial Aesthetics Advisory Panel” hosted by Allergen – makers of Botox, Juvederm and Latisse.

The PR pro, of Chandler Chicco Companies,  a health care public relations firm, wrote:

The goal of this Panel is to engage in a discussion about current facial aesthetics trends and innovations, perceived gaps in data, and any questions, concerns or misperceptions your readers may have about products and treatments. Allergan will provide an overview of the evolution of the facial aesthetics marketplace and then will open the panel for discussion.

As a seasoned reporter in this space, we would greatly value your feedback, and we’d like to offer you a stipend of $250 for your attendance and insights.

Cool, who brought the email to AHCJ’s attention, said she considers this “an all-time low in drug company promotion to the media” and that this is the first time she’s received such an offer in more than 25 years of health reporting.

AHCJ’s Vice President, Karl Stark, said AHCJ’s board of directors was alarmed by the offer.

“We report all the time on the potential conflicts of interest that money creates between drug companies and doctors,” said Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “How would this be any different?”

Cool agreed, saying she is “shocked that along with questionable payments to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry – or at least Allergan – is now stooping to offering fees to reporters, presumably in the hope of securing favorable press coverage for its products. I view this as a thinly disguised attempt at bribery and hope that this practice won’t become widespread.”

Certainly accepting such money would violate common ethical guidelines for journalists. For example, AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics advises journalists to:

  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

“Assisting medical companies with their public relations efforts is not the role of journalists,” Stark said.

AHCJ has contacted the representative who sent the email for details on this arrangement, including whether other reporters have taken her up on the offer, if any reporters have raised questions about it and whether this is an approach she or her company has used in the past. We will update this post if we get a response. [Update: PR rep says journalists’ stipend to attend Allergan event was misconstrued]

Meanwhile, Forbes’ Matthew Herper contacted Allergan and posted its response.

Disclosure of PIO participation draws comments

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Last week’s Covering Health post, “News service to disclose when PIOs listen in,” and a related post on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, have generated an interesting conversation on Twitter about disclosing in stories if a public relations person listens in on a journalists’ interview with a researcher.

I’m posting the conversation below for anyone who isn’t on Twitter or who might have missed the discussion. We’d love to hear from others about how they might handle the situation. You can either post comments below or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sciencePIOs.

And, remember, AHCJ is seeking input from reporters about their experiences obtaining information from the federal government, as well positive experiences or examples in which relationships between journalists and press officers work well. Please send your comments to felice.freyer@cox.net.

June 17
3:38 p.m.
AHCJ_Pia: News service will disclose in articles when press officers listen in on interviews http://bit.ly/8ZDjvR

June 22
10:47 a.m.
praeburn: Should reporters tell readers when a PIO listens in on an interview?  http://bit.ly/ctaMm5 #sciwri10

11:08 a.m.
maryknudson: I agree. RT @praeburn Should reporters tell readers when a PIO listens in on an interview? http://bit.ly/ctaMm5 #sciwri10

11:10 a.m.
matthewherper: @maryknudson @praeburn I’m not so sure. At some point, all these disclosures replace the actual story being written.

11:13 a.m.
maryknudson: @matthewherper Disclosure would just be a phrase in parentheses or set off by commas, told as fact, not grumbling…

11:14 a.m.
maryknudson: @matthewherper  I see disclosing presence of PR person as similar to explanation in a story of why reporter does not identify source

11:17 a.m.
MaryKnudson: @praeburn @matthewherper I once had an NIH PR person tell a scientist at my interview that he couldn’t say what he just said. I walked out

11:17 a.m.
RitaRubin: RT @maryknudson: I agree.  RT @praeburn Should reporters tell readers when a PIO listens in on an interview? http://bit.ly/ctaMm5

11:19 a.m.
RitaRubin: @maryknudson @praeburn @matthewherper I don’t like PIO listening in on interview, but I’m not sure my disclosure would make it into paper.

11:26 a.m.
AHCJ_Pia: RT @praeburn: Should reporters tell readers when a PIO listens in on interview? http://bit.ly/ctaMm5 #sciwri10 (AHCJ: http://bit.ly/8ZDjvR)

11:31 a.m.
RitaRubin: We can hope RT @maryknudson: Maybe only bcause it’s new thing  But if many reportrs started doing it, som would get published & then mre wld

12:20 p.m.
matthewherper: @maryknudson In a 400-word magazine story that could mean cutting the quote entirely.

1:03 p.m.
maryknudson: @matthewherper I hear u & understnd that stories are shorter now, but cld take 5 words to say interview  “attended by a PR representative”

1:16 p.m.
David_Dobbs: RT @RitaRubin: @maryknudson @praeburn @matthewherper re PIOs: for my ivws on PTSD,  VA often used TWO PIOs – 1 w ivwee, 1 a top DC brass.

1:29 p.m.
maryknudson: @David_Dobbs Yikes! That’s too much!

2 p.m.
David_Dobbs: @maryknudson was incredible.

6 p.m.
maryknudson: @GirlsSentAway Lots of jurno discussion abt whether to start mentioning in stories if a PR person sits in on an interview

6:05 p.m.
GirlsSentAway: @maryknudson Just read his post. YES, a thousand times, yes. Never occurred to me either to say in story that PIO present. BTW…con’td

6:59 p.m.
maryknudson: @GirlsSentAway Wish we had a thread of this conversation with all – @praeburn, @matthewherper, @RitaRubin, @David_Dobbs & @AHCJ_Pia’s story

6:44 p.m.
MaryKnudson: @GirlsSentAway Glad you agree.  I think none of us ever thought of including in story if PR was present, but this is relevant inf…

6:45 p.m.
GirlsSentAway: @maryknudson It’s so key! Glad @praeburn started the discussion!

6:48 p.m.
MaryKnudson: @GirlsSentAway U.S. jurnos in foreign countries say if story is read & possibly censored by foreign govt. PR presence is a form of censrshp

6:49 p.m.
GirlsSentAway: @maryknudson Whether it’s a PIO or a govt official, it’s censorship indeed!

6:59 p.m.
maryknudson: @GirlsSentAway Wish we had a thread of this conversation with all – @praeburn, @matthewherper, @RitaRubin, @David_Dobbs & @AHCJ_Pia’s story

7 p.m.
GirlsSentAway: @maryknudson Had we realized it, we could have added a hashtag. @praeburn @matthewherper @RitaRubin @David_Dobbs @AHCJ_Pia

7:03 p.m.
maryknudson: @GirlsSentAway Yup. Good issue for a story in ScienceWriters.

7:04 p.m.
GirlsSentAway: @maryknudson Paul should write it. Of course, I say that as if I know his work load!

7:07 p.m.
maryknudson: @GirlsSentAway Or maybe someone who has not stated a point of view and would also include reaction from some PIO members.

June 23
6:16 a.m.
matthewherper: @maryknudson It’s not just length. I think it’s pretty distracting to the reader when every quote is followed by several disclosures…

6:17 a.m.
matthewherper: @maryknudson @RitaRubin @praeburn I’ve rarely interviewed industry scientists without PR person on line. I need to disclose every time?

6:22 a.m.
JeffACSH: @matthewherper @maryknudson why disclosures only for industry scientists? Are they only ones with potential bias?

6:28 a.m.
matthewherper: @JeffACSH Argument started about academic scientists. Current practice is not to disclose presence of PR person for anybody.

6:49 a.m.
RitaRubin: @matthewherper @maryknudson @praeburn Same w/govt scientists, of course. I don’t even bothr asking PIO to get off line, ’cause I know answer

6:53 a.m.
maryknudson: @matthewherper @RitaRubin @praeburn If you interview 3 scientists for 1 story & a PR listened in each time, perhaps one mention covering all

6:55 a.m.
maryknudson: @JeffACSH No, this policy some journos are discussing would not be just for industry scientists. Govt agencies, hospitals, all sources.

6:56 a.m.
Jeff ACSH: @maryknudson @matthewherper good to hear.

PR pro describes pitching health stories to reporters

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Jessica Levco, of Ragan Communications, provides some insight into how at least one public relations professional is pitching health stories to reporters – and perhaps taking advantage of staffing shortages in newsrooms.

The article offers suggestions from Danielle Cass, the communications manager for Kaiser Permanente, that include creating videos, doing practice interviews with experts and putting news in proper context in press releases. She also that hospital communicators should write a press release just as they want to see it appear in the publication.

She gives the example of pitching Anderson Cooper’s producer about how extreme obesity is affecting more children at younger ages. When she tuned into an episode of Anderson Cooper 360, he used two of the three bullet points that she e-mailed.

“This is a reflection of what’s happening in the media,” Cass says. “A lot of media outlets are short-staffed. If you do your due diligence and put together a well-rounded piece, you could see your press release picked up word for word.”

Related

Hospital says it gives content to short-staffed media

PR specialist: Health journalists have critical role

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Health journalists may be surprised to find support from Paul Oestreicher, a marketing communications consultant and adjunct professor at New York University with experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

Oestreicher makes the case that the health care industry has a vested interest in increasing the public’s health and science literacy – something he says will be supported by “news outlets being repopulated with professional journalists to help carry information forward.”

Though the pharmaceutical industry has suffered from behavioral, communication and performance missteps that have lowered reputation, it is low health literacy among consumers and the decline of science journalism that are fundamental to this problem.

Oestreicher cites numbers that show the pharmaceutical industry is suffering from a poor reputation that will only be helped by the public’s ability to evaluate medical facts and evidence. He also cites articles and a survey done by AHCJ and the Kaiser Family Foundation about the critical need for journalists who understand scientific studies and statistics.

Professional health and science journalists must help to communicate the progress and the failures, and to differentiate the facts and evidence from the frauds and junk science. Unfortunately, we’ve seen surveys confirm what we already know about the state of health and science journalism over the past few months. It’s a shrinking, wounded profession. We know the symptoms – they’ve been well documented. Like the global economy, journalism needs a recovery plan.