4th Annual Press Audit: Coverage Uncovered!

Pharma gets less ink as news reporters shift their sights to other topics. That's a good thing—isn't it? But when the industry does make headlines, safety issues rule and the message of the value of innovation gets more play.
Mar 01, 2008

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Ask anyone in pharma if the media's scrutiny of the industry is lessening, and he would most likely answer with a vehement "no." But new research shows that it is—ever so slightly—even as major issues such as drug safety dominate the headlines.

You might ask yourself, How is that possible? Here's how: First off, there's less media coverage. Compared with 2006, the number of articles written about the pharmaceutical industry in 2007 has been halved. At the same time, many publications have softened their stance, as witnessed through a near doubling of the percentage of articles that positively report on the industry and its positions.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves too quickly: Bad news about the industry continues to command much of the news flow, and keeping an eye on just how the media report on pharma—and how that coverage compares with previous years—remains essential knowledge for executives.

To help the industry keep up, the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at Saint Joseph's University conducts an Annual Press Audit to identify the issues that attract media attention. This audit, now in its fourth year, uncovered some important findings:
  • Media coverage of the industry has dropped 46 percent, with fewer articles in every major newspaper.
  • Coverage was still more negative than positive, but less so than in the past.
  • Drug safety continues to be the hot-button issue and was included in half of all media coverage.
  • Media focus on FDA and regulatory issues continues to intensify, with the number of articles jumping from obscurity in 2005 to number two on the list of most-frequently-covered issues in 2007.

Dissecting the News: Here's How

This press audit analyzed content from the top-five US newspapers as defined by circulation: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. The audit shed light on the following questions:

  • What ethical and legal controversies face the pharmaceutical industry—and what kinds of coverage do they attract?
  • Does the media support or oppose positions taken by pharma?
  • How often is the industry's perspective included?
  • Which pharmaceutical companies and brands are identified and discussed?

To be included in the audit and our EthicsTrak database, an article had to be published between October 1, 2006, and September 30, 2007. It also had to (a) focus on an ethical or legal issue facing pharma and (b) appear either as a front-page story or on the editorial page—an indication of major news and public sentiment. We focused on daily newspapers rather than the broadcast media or weekly magazines for a number of reasons. Dailies can cover a broader range of issues and in more depth than the sound bites reported on radio and TV. Business and news magazines are also constrained by their weekly and monthly format. Further, newspapers provide editorial coverage that takes a specific and unambiguous position—pro or con—toward industry issues.

For each article, we examined four elements:

Issues We categorized the issues (as defined by PhRMA) that were discussed in each article. Many articles covered two or more issues and were included in relevant sections.

Headline We categorized the headlines as positive, negative, or neutral toward pharma. For example, "Is Your Doctor Tied to Drugmakers?" (New York Times, June 2, 2007) was classified as a negative headline, while "Yes, New Drugs Saves Lives," (Washington Post, July 11, 2007) was labeled positive.

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