Monday, July 13, 2009

Post Runs PR Content as News

The Post's Howard Kurtz gives the following account of the newspaper's decision to run an article from a hospital's in-house PR magazine as "news." Why did they do it? The health section editor admitted that buyouts had eradicated her staff, forcing her to rely on freelancers - even including PR writers.

Contracting Out

The lead story in The Washington Post's Health section last week, on why some people seem immune to AIDS, focused in part on a top physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The work of researcher Bruce Walker, who runs the hospital's Partners AIDS Research Center, was first spotlighted in the third and fourth paragraphs. The article ended with a dutiful disclosure that it was condensed from one that had run in Proto, the magazine of, yes, Massachusetts General Hospital.

What gives? Health Editor Frances Stead Sellers, who obtained the piece without charge, says Proto is "one of the best biomedical magazines," that the article was by an established freelancer and that she was transparent about the story's origin. "The cure for a perceived conflict is disclosure... I felt with this piece I was bringing something very interesting to readers," she says.

The magazine is produced by Time Inc. Content Solutions, where spokeswoman Carrie Jones says the hospital gets to review all copy and "to bask in the reflected glory" of a high-quality publication.

Sellers, who had run an earlier piece from Proto, says early-retirement buyouts at The Post have cut the weekly section's full-time staff from four to none, forcing her to rely heavily on freelancers. "If I had a whole bundle of reporters, I wouldn't be thinking of doing this," she says.