Annual Press Audit: Front Page Pharma

Feb 01, 2006

For many in the industry, it felt like pharma was hardly ever out of the news this year—and the news was mostly bad. That feeling wasn't all in your head, as this year's Audit of Media Coverage of Ethical Issues in the Pharmaceutical Industry confirms. Coverage of legal and ethical issues related to pharma increased sharply; the newspapers in the study pool published more than twice as many front-page and editorial-page stories on these topics than they did in last year's study.

Some key findings:

  • The majority of the articles about the industry continue to be negative, but there was a substantial increase in the number of stories that took a neutral position, and a corresponding decrease in the number that took a negative point of view.
  • Several new topics took center stage this year—especially safety, which was a key concern in more than half of all articles studied.
  • Following the pattern we noted last year, there were some serious disconnects between the issues that dominated the press and those identified as important by PhRMA.

Processing the News

The audit was sponsored by the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at Saint Joseph's University and is the second of its type. (For last year's results, see "Good News, Bad News" in the April 2005 issue of Pharmaceutical Executive.) The purpose of the audit was to shed light on the following questions:
  • What ethical and legal controversies face pharma—and what kinds of coverage do they attract?
  • How do the issues reported by top newspapers compare to the list of important topics developed by PhRMA?
  • Do the articles support or oppose the positions taken by the industry, as defined by PhRMA?
  • How often do reporters include the industry's perspective in the stories that cover the issues of the day?
  • What are the implications of these findings for the industry?

Under the Microscope
The audit looked at the five US newspapers with the highest circulations: USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

Which Side Are You On?
We focused on daily newspapers rather than the broadcast media or weekly magazines for a number of reasons. Newspapers 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 or monthly formats. Furthermore, with their editorial and op-ed pages newspapers have a substantial amount of content that takes a specific, unambiguous position—pro or con—toward the controversies in question. Finally, the five papers we selected are a particularly important group that both reflect a broad range of public opinion and play an important role in shaping US media coverage.

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