Newspaper lets hospital buy news coverage

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I’ve blogged in the past about TV news operations accepting sponsored news deals with local medical centers. In these deals, oftentimes the news only includes perspectives from that sponsoring hospital.

Now, in the first instance I’m aware of, the trend has come to newspapers. The website of The Capital newspaper yesterday announced:

Partnership should improve health coverage

Published March 16, 2008

In today’s editions we are experimenting with a new concept that could alarm some readers: Anne Arundel Medical Center, or AAMC, has paid us to provide content for our Health & Fitness page once a month.

Newspapers don’t normally sell access to news pages, and certainly we would not give away content privileges on any other news page. I’m sure County Executive John Leopold would love to have his staff write the stories for the front page, but that’s not going to happen for any price.

But partnering with the hospital on the Health page seemed to make sense. We don’t have a health reporter to write about medical issues and often use stories from syndicated services that quote doctors from other cities.

The local hospital is giving us stories about local physicians and programs it has to offer – in their words, without an effort to balance the copy with comments from other hospitals or from doctors who don’t practice at AAMC.

The stories are written in newspaper style and the hospital staff is responsible for the page’s design. To be open and transparent about the partnership, a disclaimer is clearly displayed at the top of the page.

I’m not entirely comfortable with the arrangement, purely for journalistic reasons. But in the end I think the reader benefits – and that’s my goal.

Instead of generic stories originating from another city, the reader will have local news featuring people they recognize, doctors they use and services that are available to them. The hospital staff is getting to the stories we are not able to write because of other priorities.

Is the page more readable now? You tell me.

Wow. “Partnering” – or being paid by a hospital to provide their news? Actually, he calls it content, not news. Whew. Because we used to call that advertising.

Also a relief – “the stories are written in newspaper style and the hospital staff is responsible for the page’s design.” So they’ll look professional! Just like, or maybe even better than, real news.

And who cares if we give readers only one side of a story? Maybe a side that is so incomplete it can hurt them? And so what if we don’t disclose the financial conflicts of interest of the doctors who might appear in the stories written and designed by the hospital itself? And so what if there are other opinions or other approaches from other doctors on the other side of town that don’t get covered?

The main thing is: “Is the page more readable now?”

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Ms. Jan

March 18, 2008 at 11:22 am

I wonder what the hospital’s competitors think about this. Were they given a chance to become part of this “partnership?” If the competitors submit editorials and letters to the editor about the “partnership,” will they get printed?


March 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I totally agree with you. This is ridiculous.