Good News Bad News - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Good News Bad News
It's not just industry paranoia. A survey of newspaper coverage reveals that pharma news is largely negative.


Pharmaceutical Executive



In the News
Industry executives frequently lament the way pharma is portrayed in the media. They don't understand why an industry that develops medicines allowing patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives is so frequently cast as the villain. Outsiders might be quick to discount that concern as self-serving, but a recent analysis of print coverage supports the notion that the media is largely negative toward the ethical positions taken by pharma.

This article analyzes the results of Saint Joseph's University's Haub School of Business' first annual audit of newspaper coverage of ethical issues in the pharma industry. The survey examined the top five newspapers in the United States (as defined by circulation) over a 12-month period and identified and analyzed a select group of articles pertaining to "hot button" pharma issues. The audit focused on shedding light around the following questions:

  • What ethical and legal controversies face the pharma industry—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 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (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?


Who Says What?
Processing the News Between October 1, 2003 and September 30, 2004, we audited the top five US newspapers with the highest circulations: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. For inclusion in the study, we selected articles that focused on an ethical or legal issue facing the pharma industry and that appeared either as a front-page story or on the editorial page—an indication of major news and public sentiment. (See "Who Says What?".)

The research team—which includes the authors of this article with research assistant Theresa Garvey—selected and analyzed a total of 105 articles. For each article, the team first analyzed the headlines and categorized them as positive, negative, or neutral toward the industry. For example, "When Drug Companies Hide Data" (New York Times, June 6, 2004) was clearly classified as a negative headline, while "Buying in Canada Won't Cut Drug Costs" (Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2004) was labeled positive.


Content Analysis
Next, we identified the issues discussed in the article, and categorized them according to a list of nine topics PhRMA posted on its website during October 2004 under a heading labeled "The Issues." The miscellaneous category of "other" was added to capture any issues reported by newspapers but not included in PhRMA's list. Twenty-three articles covered more than one issue and were included in relevant sections.


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