Off the Hook? Pharm Exec's Annual Press Audit

Mar 01, 2012

Coverage of the industry in print is at its lowest level since the Saint Joseph's study began in 2004—down 48.4 percent in 2011 from the previous year. (GETTY IMAGES / PETER AUGUSTIN)
The big news in 2011 for pharma was ... no news. The year was the quietest for big daily newspaper coverage of the pharmaceutical industry since we began tracking the data in 2004. And since newspaper coverage of the industry has historically been more negative than positive, this "neglect" gives Big Pharma a respite—and a welcome chance to reinvent itself and repair its reputational credentials.

Sponsored by the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at Saint Joseph's University, the audit also found a less negative tone in coverage. Two issues drew the most attention: drug safety and the FDA regulatory environment.

Details of the findings include:
» Coverage of pharma is down 48.4 percent from last year and the lowest it has been since the study was launched in 2004.

» Coverage is less critical of the industry. In 2011, 21 percent of articles were negative toward the industry compared to a five-year average of 48 percent negative.

» Flu vaccines, which earned the top spot on the list of issues last year, dropped to 11th.

» Drug prices are receiving less media scrutiny, but are still on the radar screen, at fourth place on the list of issues.

» Merck, Roche, and Pfizer were the companies identified most frequently in the news.

» Healthcare reform coverage decreased by 88 percent, from last year's 86 articles to only 10.

Processing the News

The audit analyzed the top five newspapers in the United States as defined by circulation for a 12-month period and identified all front-page and editorial articles pertaining to "hot button" pharma issues. The purpose of the audit was to shed light on the following questions:
» What ethical and legal controversies face the pharma industry—and what kinds of coverage do they attract?

» Do the articles and headlines support or oppose the positions taken by the industry, as defined by the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers' Association (PhRMA)?

» How often do reporters include the industry's perspective in the stories that cover the issues of the day?

» What pharmaceutical companies and brand names are identified and discussed in the articles?

» What are the implications of these findings for the industry?

» To be included in the study and in our EthicsTrak database, an article had to be published between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2011, in one of the top five US newspapers (as measured by circulation): USA Today, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.

Table 1: Number of Articles by Newspaper and Section
Table 1 (at right) shows the breakdown of coverage by newspaper. Coverage is down by a wide margin in all five newspapers, ranging from a drop of 31 percent in the Los Angeles Times to a 68 percent decline in USA Today.

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