Media Audit: Stop the Presses! - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Media Audit: Stop the Presses!
The media are becoming more negative and onesided when it comes to reporting industry news.


Pharmaceutical Executive


2. Headline For each article, the team analyzed the headlines and categorized them as positive, negative, or neutral toward the industry. For example, "Escalating Prescription Drug Prices," (The New York Times, June 26, 2006) was classified as a negative headline, while "Breast Cancer Drug Hailed," (USA Today, October 20, 2005) was labeled positive.

3. Tone We also analyzed the complete article to determine whether it took a positive, negative, or neutral position toward the industry. For example, an editorial that called for restrictions on DTC advertising—a position the industry opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article claiming that DTC advertising results in better-informed patients was designated as positive.

4. Balance Regardless of the specific slant of the story, we also looked to see if the reporting included the opposing point of view. When an explicit statement about an opposing view was included in the article—even if the two sides did not receive equal coverage—we concluded that the article covered both sides. When no mention of the opposing view was presented, the article was labeled as one-sided.

Hot-Button Issues


What's It All About?
Our research has found that, over the past three years, the media focus on pharma has increased by 157 percent. However, the amount of newsprint was virtually unchanged from 2005 (271 relevant articles) to 2006 (270). Of all the newspapers, the most significant change is the increased coverage in the The New York Times, especially on the editorial page, where the number of articles on pharma jumped from 16 in 2005 to 64 in 2006.

Here's what the audit of the four components of coverage revealed:

Drug safety is down, pricing is up The ranking of the top-three most-covered issues remains unchanged from last year: 1. drug safety, 2. drug prices, and 3. clinical study design and sponsorship. (See "What's It All About?".)

Even though drug safety retained its top spot, the volume of articles on safety dropped by 36 percent, perhaps reflecting the denouement of the Vioxx (rofecoxib) dramas that dominated the news in 2005. On the other hand, the focus on drug prices jumped, up by 30 percent from 2005 to 2006. Meanwhile, media coverage of the drug importation/reimportation debate faded, dropping from 24 articles in 2004 to five articles in 2006.

Interestingly, other issues emerged. Most striking was the growing focus on marketing and sales incentives used by the industry, which rose from 14 articles in 2005 to 34 in 2006, and on generics, which rose from 3 to 22 articles. Also attracting more notably new attention this year were FDA (15 articles) and bioterrorism (12 articles).

Head slams were up... Newspaper headlines are influential in shaping public perceptions—and are often all that consumers read or remember. In 2006, newspaper heads tipped toward the negative—51.9 percent came down against pharma. (See "Keep on Spinning," this page.) That's a shift from 2005, when headlines were more likely to be neutral (46.9 percent) than negative (43.9 percent) or positive (19.2 percent).

And body checks, too As in previous years, our audit found more negative coverage (60.7 percent) than neutral (15.6 percent) or positive (23.7 percent). What's also interesting to note is that articles tend to take a positive or negative position on pharma's ethical issues compared with headlines, which are more often neutral.

Balance is down In 2006, only 59 percent of articles mentioned both sides of a story, down significantly from 83 percent in 2005 and 78 percent in 2004.


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