November 16, 2006
Comparing Different Media on the Same Story
We’re making a new effort to compare coverage by different news organizations on the same story. For journalists and for consumers, we think this comparison will be interesting and insightful.
For example, we’ve posted reviews of six stories by six different news organizations (three print, three broadcast) on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about CAT scan screening for lung cancer in smokers. On average, stories were rated satisfactory on 6 out of 10 criteria. Newspaper stories, as usual, were more accurate, balanced and complete than TV stories. Where did stories fall short?
- 4 of 6 failed to adequately discuss potential harms of such screening, which can include radiation exposure, needless anxiety after receiving a potentially false positive result and significant medical complications associated with biopsies.
- 4 of 6 stories failed to adequately address the availability of CAT scan machines that can be used for the lung cancer screening described.
- 3 of 6 stories failed to discuss the costs of such screening, which were discussed in the journal article upon which the stories were based. Estimates range from $200 to $1,000 per scan, so this is a significant issue that half the stories ignored.
- 3 of 6 stories relied on a single source and/or failed to get an independent perspective, relying only on authors of the published study.
- Miami Herald, “Early screening for lung cancer gets mixed reviews", 5-star score.
- Washington Post, “Cancer study finds promise in CAT scans for smokers", 4-star score.
- Houston Chronicle, “Newer lung-cancer scans may save lives, a study suggests", 3-star score. (Please note: this Houston story is a shorter version of a story originally published by the Chicago Tribune. The Houston version, at 572 words, left out much material that was in the original 1,244-word Chicago story. See a related Publisher’s Note on this practice.)
- NBC Nightly News, 3-star score.
- ABC World News Tonight, 3-star score.
- CBS Evening News, 2- star score.
We’ve also published reviews of two broadcast stories by two different networks on the same night on so-called bioidentical hormones for menopause. In the eyes of three independent reviewers, neither story did a satisfactory job addressing costs, the quality of the evidence, explaining potential benefits, or in explaining the potential conflicts of interest in the sources used.
- CBS Evening News, 3-star score
- NBC Nightly News, 2 -star score