Do reporters fall for pharma swag?

Reporters looking for undue pharma influence might check around their own newsrooms. According to new research, journalists are exposed to the same sorts of conflicts of interest as are doctors and academic researchers.

Drugmakers sponsor journalism awards that carry cash prizes and all-expense-paid trips. Pharma companies fund journalism training and education programs and endow journalism professorships. And in a more subtle but everyday form of influence, reporters often rely on drug company PR folks to referrals to other sources, such as researchers or patients, who have been handpicked for their favorable views.

It shouldn't be a surprise, the researchers told the New York Times, that drugmakers try to influence reporters. They spend millions to get their messages out to the public and to doctors, "so it makes sense they would go after the media as well," said Dr. Steven Woloshin, one of the authors of the paper published in the British medical journal BMJ.

Many reporters eschew this sort of influence, however, journalism experts said. Freelancers and online journalists are probably more likely to enter the lucrative contests, such as Eli Lilly's awards for coverage of incontinence and cancer, they said. Most reporters "are good solid people who will avoid these conflicts, or they wouldn't have entered journalism to begin with,” the executive director of the Association for Health Care Journalists told the NYT.

- read the NYT article