Processing The News
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 (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™ database1, an article had to be published between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013 in one of the top five US newspapers (as measured
by circulation) – USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. It also had to (a) focus on an ethical or legal issue facing the pharma industry and (b) 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:
Issue: 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.
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.
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 no mention of the opposing view was presented, the article was labeled as one-sided.
Table 1 shows the breakdown of coverage by newspaper. The 20% increase in coverage of the industry for the year is driven
almost exclusively by the New York Times and the Washington Post. In fact, the amount of coverage dropped in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal and was flat in the Los Angeles Times.