Pharma in the News: Pharm Exec's Annual Press Audit - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharma in the News: Pharm Exec's Annual Press Audit

Pharmaceutical Executive

Processing the news

Once again we 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 of America (PhRMA)?
How often do reporters include the industry's perspective in 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, 2011 and September 30, 2012 in one of the top five US newspapers (as measured by circulation)—USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. It also had to focus on an ethical or legal issue facing the pharma industry and 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. The newspapers 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 while the newspapers have the advantage of editorial coverage that takes a specific and unambiguous position—pro or con—toward the controversies in question.

For each article, we examined four elements:

Issues. We identified and categorized the hot-button issues that were discussed in each article. Many articles covered two or more issues that were included in relevant sections.

Headlines. We analyzed the headlines and categorized them as positive, negative, or neutral toward the industry. For example, "Heart Drugs Tied to Diabetes; Statins Raise Risk of Developing Disease" (USA Today, January 10, 2012) and "Nicotine Gum And Skin Patch Face New Doubt" (The New York Times, January 10, 2012) were classified as negative headlines, while "Two Cheers for the Malaria Vaccine" (The New York Times, October 24, 2011) and "In a First, FDA Panel Supports Drug to Prevent HIV Infection" (The Washington Post, May 11, 2012) were labeled positive.

Tone. We also analyzed each complete article to determine whether it took a positive, negative, or neutral position toward the pharmaceutical industry. For example, any article that called for restrictions or a prohibition on DTC advertising—a position that the industry opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article that claimed that DTC advertising resulted in more informed patients was designated as positive from the industry's point of view.

Figure 1: Number of Articles by Year
Balance. Regardless of the dominant position taken by the article, we also looked to see if the stories 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.

Table 1: Number of Articles by Newspaper and Year
Figure 1 and Table 1 show the number of articles for 2012 compared to previous years. Results indicate that the amount of coverage the industry received is up 41 percent year-over-year, but still slightly below the six-year average of 124 articles.


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