Reporting by press release

The Los Angeles Times features — not in the good way — in a Columbia Journalism Review critique of science reporting that makes too credulous use of news releases written by flacks. The locally relevant portion:

Craig Stolz, a former Washington Post health editor who appeared on the NASW science-writing panel with Petit, has seen a lot of questionable reporting in this area while working for Health News Review, a foundation-supported Web site that “grades” health reporting from major print and television outlets. At the panel, he cited the example of a Los Angeles Times article about a journal study of a new drug for aggressive prostate cancer. Health News Review concluded that the article had overstated how soon the drug would become “widely available” based on a quote from the lead researcher, found in the press release, whose work is supported by the drug’s maker. It also criticized the Times for using two quotes from a patient that were identical to those in the press release: “It most certainly should not have taken quotes from a patient directly from a press release. That is inexcusable.”

“The problem is worsening,” agreed Paul Costello, who heads the Stanford University School of Medicine communications and public affairs office. He said that the “shift to new media Web site traffic” is putting added pressure on reporters, leading some to cut corners in the name of more copy, “often writing right off press releases, even at the good papers.”

There's a pretty good run of comments off the piece.


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