hospital drip

Journalism in absentia: Reporting medical research in the mainstream media

A version of this piece ran in the first edition of the Michael Smith-edited reboot of Village Magazine in December 2008. 

A common rumour concerning the contemporary print media is that it is heavily reliant on the public relations industry to supply it with story ideas. The mass austerity drives of newspapers all over the world from the 1990’s onwards; brought on by declining sales and advertising revenue, led to massive staff cutbacks, even as newspapers increased their pagination. In 2006, a group of researchers at Cardiff University set out to discover if the rumours of a newspaper industry in hock to its public relations cousin were true. Their findings, originally published in 2006 but brought to wide public attention in Nick Davies’s 2008 book Flat Earth News, showed that they were: of the 2,207 stories they analysed, they found that less than half of them were entirely independent of traceable PR.

The reliance of the media on press releases and press officers to give them both story ideas, and, too often, the wording of a story too is explained in one way by the the increased pressures on ever smaller numbers of journalists to fill an ever larger news hole, in less time than ever before. A second contributing factor is the increased popularity of lifestyle supplements. These are easy and cheap to produce, consisting as they do of pages of thinly-veiled advertorial and news of celebrity exploits, both of which categories come pre-packaged in press releases from companies and agents eager to see their brand promoted. Continue reading →