In case you missed them, there were two stories in today’s Crikey bulletin looking at the role of PR in generating media coverage of health issues. This one critiqued how Nick Miller at The Age reported on a new leukaemia drug, and this one quoted a range of journalists and PR people (including yours truly) suggesting that PR has a big hand in media coverage of health issues.
Two quick points on these stories (and, if you keep reading, some links to other news in media coverage of health issues):
• A twinge of regret at seeing Nick Miller singled out. I don’t know him personally (although I do follow him at Twitter), and I am not a regular reader of The Age. But I have only heard good things about his work from various sources, and I do think he deserved some credit for subsequently owning up on his blog that his story had been lacking, and explaining why and how this happened. If only more of us would do the same. There are plenty of other, far more deserving targets. On the other hand, that’s the way the media works, I guess. Someone makes one slip and we splash it, regardless of all the other good work they might do. So, the industry that dishes it out must also take it on the chin.
• Re the story highlighting the role of PR in generating health coverage, it was – as Ray Moynihan pointed out – hardly telling us anything new. I suppose it’s still worth hearing these things again and again, but it would be nice to try and take the discussions a step further perhaps. Why does all this matter? What impact does it have? How does it distort patient care, policy and funding? ETC. I would have been far more interested if some of these questions had been addressed. But perhaps they will be (I am not privvy to where this Crikey series is heading).
While we’re on the subject of media coverage of health, here are a few other links that may be of interest:
• A new study of how US newspapers and magazines report cancer found that reports frequently discuss aggressive treatment and survival but rarely discuss treatment failure, adverse events, end-of-life care, or death. “These portrayals of cancer care in the news media may give patients an inappropriately optimistic view of cancer treatment, outcomes, and prognosis,” the authors concluded. Perhaps these findings answer some of the questions I raised above, about the impact of promotional coverage. (The abstract is freely available here but you have to pay to access the full article, published in Archives of Internal Medicine.)
• Two new papers arising out of the Australian Health News Research Collaboration (with which I have a tangential connection), looking at TV news coverage of young people with mental illness, and of colorectal cancer. The second paper can be freely downloaded here.
Mackenzie E, Chapman S, McGeechan K, Holding S. “A disease many people still feel uncomfortable talking about”: Australian television news coverage of colorectal cancer. Psycho-Oncology 2010;19:283-8.
Henson C, Chapman S, McLeod L, Johnson N, Hickie I. Room for improvement: mixed portrayal of young people with mental illness on Australian television news. Aust NZ J Psychiatry 2010; 44 (3): 267-272.
• And finally, some good news. This blog from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University profiles several journalists doing worthy work reporting on global public health issues – with support from various not-for-profits. Which seems a fitting end point to this post: critique is good and helpful, but so are constructive initiatives to help promote healthier reporting. Wish there were more of them…