Journalist Q&A: Ivan Oransky, executive editor, Reuters Health

Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health, speaks with Jaimy Lee about the impact of embargoes, engaging with PR professionals on Twitter, and conflicts of interest.

Name: Ivan Oransky
Title: Executive editor
Outlet: Reuters Health

Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health, speaks with Jaimy Lee about the impact of embargoes, engaging with PR professionals on Twitter, and conflicts of interest.

How has social media and the 24/7 news cycle impacted the way media covers medicine?

In some ways, it's helped us a lot. You can monitor for good stories. It helps you develop sources in a really robust way through people realizing what you're interested in, getting to know how you cover things, and offering their expertise. It really helps when you're on deadline and you need to reach out to people.

You launched Embargo Watch last year, a blog about how embargoes impact the release of science information.

I have been interested in embargoes for a long time. Several years ago, there was an instance where the World Health Organization had come out harshly on The New York Times for a broken embargo. It wasn't so much the punishment driving it, but the fact they made it quite public in a way that had not been typically done before.

The degree to which embargoes are present and used in science and health coverage is greater than any other field of journalism. It has really affected how people cover things and the amount of time people have for enterprising stories. It's a bit of a Faustian bargain because you're turning over a lot of control of what you do as a science and health journalist to the people who produce the information if you rely on heavily embargoed content.

Has use of embargoes changed significantly in recent years?

More places are using them, particularly companies that use them not just for financial information, such as annual or quarterly reports, but also for information that's being presented at a conference.

If reporters are so beholden to that being their source of information they haven't taken the time to develop their own sources, or if they rely heavily on embargoed press releases because they're afraid their competition will break the story if they don't write about it, I'm concerned about that.

Do your reporters have trusted relationships with PR pros?

I've built some really good relationships with a number of PR people who have taken the time to figure out what we're interested in, whether it's on Twitter or getting to know me some other way. A lot of it is understanding what we're looking for.

The other thing is they know I'm not going to run anything based on a press release. They also know if they don't send the whole PDF of the paper or the entire study that's been vetted by someone with the right credentials, I won't cover it.

What can PR pros do to help journalists covering medicine and science?

Pay attention to what we cover and don't pitch flimsy stuff. At the end of the day, good PR must start with a good story. I also encourage people to get on Twitter and follow me for a while. I'll follow you back if you seem to be engaged in an area of content or you're punting interesting things out to me.

Punt things out to me that aren't related to your clients. If I think you're a valuable source, your clients may end up more often as second sources on stories than they do as the subject of their study being covered.

What do you see as the most prominent trends in terms of companies or therapeutic areas?

More and more journals are picking up on the obesity issue. There are more journals in the field. Diabetes, in particular, is something a lot more people are covering. I've seen a lot of studies that are trying to look at cost benefit - therapies' outcomes as opposed to pure clinical outcomes. That's important. You're going to see more interest in comparative effectiveness along those lines.

Focusing on physicians' and researchers' relationships with the industry, are there more examples of conflicts of interest and lack of disclosure?

It's hard to say. I'll quote something Jeffrey Drazen, the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, said: "It's hard to find editorialists for the Journal who aren't conflicted and who actually know some- thing about new drugs."

It's very hard to find people who know and understand the content, but haven't been supported by the company. It's gone on for a long time and people are becoming more aware of it. That's a good thing. Journalists could still do a better job of expressing it and talking about it. 

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