Saturday, June 30, 2007

Christiane Truelove of MedAdNews Says "Buy Our Space, Not Our Words"

Every Friday, I look forward to receiving my issue of Pharma Blogs: Week in Review written by Christiane Truelove, editor at MedAdNews (subscribe here). I like it because it often has excerpts from my favorite pharma bloggers, including myself!

This past Friday was no exception. Part of Truelove's newsletter that day was devoted to editorial vs. advertising practices of medical journals like JAMA -- an issue I first raised in my post "Pimp My Doc!" over at Pharma Marketing Blog.

Here's what Truelove had to say on the subject:

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog's Jacob Goldstein has posted an interview with Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association: "'No doctor should be on a speakers bureau — none, zero,' DeAngelis said yesterday when she came by Health Blog HQ for a chat. Just in case we didn't get the message, she added that she once said to a doctor who dodged a tough question during an industry-funded speech, 'Do you understand what prostituting yourself is? That's what you just did.'"

Mr. Goldstein writes, "How does DeAngelis reconcile her tough stance on drug information with the pharmaceutical ads that fill JAMA? She notes that ads don't run in the section of the journal where research studies appear, and says she routinely bars ads that she deems misleading: 'A couple weeks ago, the ad people came down and said, 'You know, you've cost us $750,000 this year because you've turned down ads.' I said, 'Is that all?'"

The latter statement was highlighted by John Mack of the Pharma Marketing Blog, who took the opportunity to illustrate the story in his own unique way. "This leads me to ask, how much money does JAMA and other medical journals make from pharma advertising if Catherine can shrug off $750,000 per offhand remark?" Mr. Mack says. "At what point does it become Kettle, Pot, calling each other black?"
It's nice to be quoted by Truelove, but what I really want to focus on is Truelove's own opinion on the subject, which she thankfully includes in her article:
I do wonder the same thing myself, yet as a trade magazine editor, I empathize with Dr. DeAngelis. In the final analysis, however, when it comes to advertisers, we should all be guided by Betsy Throckmorton, the newspaper editor in the journalistic novel Fast Copy: "They buy our space. They do not buy our words."
This last statement of editorial principle is worth continued discussion and debate in the Pharma Blogopshere, which is confronted with the same "church vs. state" issues faced by publications like JAMA and MedAdNews; namely, the influence of advertisers over editorial content.

It's interesting that this subject has been linked to CME, which I was the first to do, because pharmaceutical companies and physicians use the same "space vs. words" argument in defense of pharma-sponsored CME. Just as in medical journal publishing, there are "no strings attached" to pharma support of CME (see my "No Strings Attached" post to Pharma Marketing Blog).

In other words, "They Buy Our Space, Not Our Words" is equivalent to "No Strings Attached."

This cannot be true. There are always strings attached no matter what trickery you use to prove that there aren't any.

Say what you want Dr. DeAngelis, but if you keep losing $750,000 in advertising every time you criticize the pharmaceutical industry, some day, some one is going to notice and you will no longer be heard criticising the industry (at least not within JAMA). As Don Corleone said in the Godfather movie: "Someday - and that day may never come - I'll call upon you to do a service for me."

Actually, what really happens is advertisers don't give the publisher any more chances to provide THEM a service -- ie, provide ad space. [Sometimes, advertisers have no choice -- the publication reaches so many of their audience that it would be foolish to pull their ads from publications like JAMA.]

"Trade publications," whose mission is to promote the drug industry anyway, may feel the pressure from advertisers the most. As long as they continue to publish "rah rah" stories about the industry, sponsor industry awards, etc., they will will continue to receive the ads.

I've personally seen how advertisers influence content at trade publications when I was commissioned to write a piece for an un-named biotech publication. In the middle of the project, the editor called and cancelled the project for no good reason. He was apologetic and it was obvious that someone got back to him -- in a true Don Corleone manner -- about a previous article I wrote that was somewhat critical of biotech DTC advertising practices. It was clear that I would never write for that publication again.

Welcome to the world of trade publication!

What about pharma bloggers? For my part, I do not accept any advertising -- except for job notices and other types of "classified ads" -- on my blog (Pharma Marketing Blog) from pharmaceutical companies or from their big ad agencies that I often write about.
NOTE: Like many other bloggers, I run Google Adwords on my blog and other Web sites and these may include product advertising form pharma companies. However, I do not choose what ads are included in Adwords. Sometimes, I can filter out the ones I do not want -- eg, Lunesta adwords that I believe violate FDA regulations. But it's really impractical to monitor all the ads served and filter out all the unwanted ones.
Truthfully, I never had to enforce or even publish this policy because no pharma company has ever approached me to place their product or service or self-promotional ads on my blog! I wonder why not!

It's a fact of life for me that I will never attract these kinds of advertisers, although I know that at least 40% of my readers work for the pharmaceutical industry. I will just have to survive without the ads.

And JAMA could live without pharma advertising as well, if the following comment to my "Pimp My Doc!" post has any merit:
The Senate Committee on Aging, which met yesterday, heard testimony from, among others, Jerome Kassirer, a Tufts University professor who was once editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, pointed out that NEJM and JAMA could produce editorial publications WITHOUT the need for pharma advertising. The income derived from subscription and classified advertising was sufficient to publish these prestigious journals. Why then are they heavy on pharma-related content? Is this where the "pimping" starts?
Inquiring minds want to know.


Adam J. Fein, Ph.D. said...


You provide a lot of useful content and a valuable point of view. Why not just shut off the ads? I notice that you use Blogger, so this should be a simple modification.

Many of us in the outer boroughs turn off AdSense. I have no ads on my blog ( because it is intended to be an educational and information resource.

Obviously, it also serves as an efficient way to highlight my expertise to potential clients. But in reality, a very small percent of readers/browsers ever become clients.

I also do not want the web page cluttered up with ads for illegal online pharmacies, which seem to be the dominant ad buyers. (They are 4 of the 6 ads running on Pharma Marketing Blog at the time I am writing.)

Just my $0.02. Keep up the good work.


PharmaGuy said...

Thanks for the advice. But I am pro-advertising. I believe it provides a useful service to my audience and it helps me make a living, otherwise I could not provide all this free service to my readers. I just don't think I need to accept pharma ads to survive. Not that I think pharma advertising is a bad thing either. I just have more feel I have more editorial freedom without it.

Anonymous said...

I have a popular blog - the ads pay the rent. No ads mean no blog and the entire ship goes down the tubes and people like you don't get my insight.

I have to eat and pay child support and if chewable viagra sees the value in my work enough to plunk down their money I thank them.

Otherwise, could someone please paypal me 7 or 8 thousand dollars next month?

When the bigshots advertise on my site it verifies that I am writing quality content. If I kowtow to them my quality will go down and they won't want to advertise any more anyhow.

Write good content and you will make lots of money regardless of who throws it your way.