STAT becomes 3rd major organization to revise policies after our scrutiny

Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org.  He tweets as @garyschwitzer, or, using our project handle, @HealthNewsRevu.

This afternoon, 12 days after publishing a troubled op-ed praising drug reps by an “author” who later admitted he didn’t write it, STAT revised its policy for those who submit op-eds to the health care news organization.  In so doing, STAT reacted to many of the criticisms we raised in our original criticism on September 7 and in a followup article last night with three more examples.

In the new policy, STAT has addressed ghostwriting for the first time. That glaring problem was not addressed in their retraction of the original article.  While introducing the new guidelines, STAT executive editor Rick Berke wrote, “…in hindsight, we realize that we should have been more explicit in defining exactly what constitutes a conflict — so we will now require writers to answer a series of direct questions about those issues. We are also requiring contributors to disclose any assistance they received in writing their piece.” Here are those questions:

Were you asked by an organization, company, or public relations firm to write this article, or did you receive media training from such a company in preparation for writing it?

Did you get any assistance in writing this article, such as talking points or editing help?

Did you receive compensation of any sort for writing this article?

Please list all financial disclosures. These include payments, grants, stock options, travel reimbursements, speaking fees, and honoraria received in the past three years from any company or organization that is referenced in the article or stands to benefit from this article’s publication. Compensation for serving as an expert witness must also be disclosed.

Do you belong to, work for, or volunteer for an organization or company that is referenced in the article or stands to benefit from the article’s publication?

Do you have any other conflicts to declare?

We still have other questions about the other examples we have pointed out.  And, of course, we don’t know how many more such examples might exist.  STAT’s Berke wrote, “We are also reviewing past op-eds and will add previously undisclosed conflicts of interest where appropriate.”

We were clear all along that our criticism was about the op-eds in question, and not about STAT’s news operation which deserves its respected reputation.

As publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, I am very proud of the efforts of our editorial team in this investigation. STAT is now the third major organization to revise policies based on our scrutiny. The University of Maryland, following the PR debacle making claims for a specialized chocolate milk for concussions, and the Poynter Institute, which has accepted alcohol industry foundation support for two journalism workshops, were the others.

If our scrutiny leads to improvement in the training for, practice and delivery of health care journalism, then we will consider our efforts meaningful and a success. Our mission is to improve the public dialogue about health care, to help people improve their own critical thinking by seeing how we critically evaluate health care claims. We will also continue to scrutinize health care-related op-eds, public relations news releases, marketing and advertising messages.  We are the only such project in the US that does this.  We’ve done it for 11.5 years, and we consider ourselves fortunate to have the ability to conduct this vital work.

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