WHERE DOES NEWS ABOUT PRESCRIPTION DRUGS COME FROM?: EXPLORING HOW ORGANIZATIONS BUILT AND FRAMED THE NATIONAL NEWS MEDIA AGENDA FOR HORMONE THERAPY FROM 1995 TO 2011
Weissman, Paula L.
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ABSTRACT This longitudinal study explored how health and medical organizations used public relations techniques to influence news content about postmenopausal hormone therapy (HT) from 1995 to 2011. A theoretical framework that combined agenda building, information subsidies, and framing guided the study (Zoch & Molleda, 2006). Quantitative content analyses were conducted on 675 press releases about HT distributed through PR Newswire and EurekAlert!, and 429 news stories about HT in the Associated Press Newswire (AP), The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Supplemental qualitative content analyses of organizational websites, annual reports, and scientific publications explored financial relationships and potential collaborations between ten organizations that emerged as the most successful agenda builders. Six types of health and medical organizations produced press releases about HT: pharmaceutical companies, academic/medical institutions, nonprofit health advocacy organizations, medical/scientific journal publishers, U.S. government agencies, and other for-profit organizations. A positive, statistically significant relationship was found between the quantity of press releases and news stories over time (r = .55, p<.001). Findings also supported the transference of specific objects, such as brand-name HT products, and attributes, such as risks and benefits, from the public relations to the news media agenda. Academic/medical institutions and nonprofit health advocacy organizations were significantly more likely than pharmaceutical companies to identify non-FDA approved, "off-label" benefits. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of leading HT brands Premarin and Prempro, financially subsidized most of the top-ten, agenda-building organizations, including four academic/medical institutions and two non-profit health advocacy organizations that were frequently cited in news stories. Additionally, a substantial degree of synergy was found between these organizations in terms of how they framed menopause and HT over the study period. This study supported and extended the theoretical framework used by offering insights into how organizations may collaborate through funding arrangements and third-party communication techniques to influence news content in a health and medical context. The findings also contributed a new and important dimension to scholarship on pharmaceutical promotion of prescription drugs, which has neglected the role of public relations and focused almost exclusively on more overt, paid-promotional efforts like direct-to-consumer advertising.