Health care news coverage via news release – a classic case study

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A new post on the Embargo Watch blog, “The power of the press release: A tale of two fish oil-chemotherapy studies,” addresses an issue that had me running around in circles for hours last week.

cancer.jpg Some news organizations were reporting on a paper in the journal Cancer, reporting that it had been published in that day’s online edition.

But it hadn’t been – not when the stories were published.

Instead, all I could find was a study by the same authors on the same topic that had been published in the same journal two weeks prior.

What apparently happened, as Embargo Watch surmises as well, is that many journalists simply covered what was in the journal’s news release – not what had already been published two weeks prior – which was a more impressive article. And they rushed to publish before the new study had even been posted online – all over a very short-term study in a small number of people.

Blogger Ivan Oransky of Embargo Watch nails the issue with this conclusion:

“I find it puzzling that all the outlets aimed at consumers chose to cover a shorter — and even somewhat smaller — study in a journal that had just published a longer — and therefore stronger — one. I can’t prove that it comes down to the fact that one was press-released and the other wasn’t, but I’m not seeing any evidence to the contrary.

I also can’t explain why Cancer chose to press-release the weaker of the two studies, although it was probably just choosing what was important in a given week, rather than anything planned. The February 28 study probably just stood out more that week than the February 15 one had. Of course, if it were me, I would have somehow mentioned the February 15 study in the release for the February 28th one, but I don’t write press releases.

What this does suggest is that press releases are more powerful than some of us would like to admit — and that many news outlets rely too heavily on them to determine what they should be covering. I often criticize journals and societies for their attempts to use embargoes to control the flow of information. Here, however, the balance of the blame seems to be with reporters.

Sorry, colleagues, but I call them like I see them.”

Faulty health care news is rarely the fault of just a single entity. As this case demonstrates, there’s some blame that should be shared by both the medical journal and the journalists who were spoonfed by the journal news release.

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Harold DeMonaco

March 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

The Most Important Press Release Ever Issued
PR Hungry healthcare professional issues the most important press release in 2011
BOSTON, March 8, 2011. Dewey Cheetam MD has issued what must be the most important press release ever. “Do yourself a favor and read this amazing document to its completion,” saysDr. Cheetam. “You will be glad you did.”
“I have been practicing medicine for over 30 years and I must admit that this is indeed the most important press release that I or anyone else for that matter has issued. It is truly a work of art and one that will go down in history as the most important. I am very pleased with myself for writing this and have no doubt that you will be very, very impressed with this most important press release ever,” Dr. Cheetam went on to say.
Unlike other mundane and uninteresting press releases, this one is the most important. It is factual and gives you, the media, everything you need to know about its importance. “This press release really changes the entire dynamic,” said Dr. Cheetam. “Although my first quote was truly gifted, I have decided to restate the obvious in a less obvious way so it would seem ever more important and truly gifted.”
Unlike other press releases, this one has not science, no pseudoscience, not biased data reporting and no possible way for you to refute anything in it. “That’s why it is so important. Other press releases try to give you enough information to wet your appetite and perhaps write about them. This press release provides absolutely no details. That’s why it is so important,” said Dr. Howe, a co-author of the most important press release ever issued. “Anyone who has read this far in the document by now appreciates just how important this press release is and why they should note its importance as the opening story of their newscast, cover story of their magazine or headline of their newspaper. Dr. Cheetam asked, “How many other press releases provide absolutely no information?
Noted expert and company spokesperson, Dr. Ann Howe noted, “Every word of the press release was careful contrived, sanctioned by our legal department and purged of any negative thoughts. That’s why it is truly, the most important press release of all times.
Even if you disagree, you could never claim to have written the most important press release. Only we have that honor and deservedly so.
My thanks to prn newswire for the idea for The Most Important Press Release Every Issued.

Gregory D. Pawelski

March 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

Harold. As someone else has said, I love the emotional triggers in this rapid and fatal press release. Always important to know the facts behind the marketing hype.