Journalism for Hire?

The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) is debating the ethics of a job advertisement sent to its members from Chicco Chandler, a PR firm that "works exclusively with the pharmaceutical/biotech industry" and boasts of past involvement in PR for Viagra, Celebrex and Zoloft, with clients including Agouron, Amgen, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Novo Nordisk and Pfizer. Chicco Chandler's job ad sought a "freelance journalist to attend the EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes) meeting in Glasgow, September 9-13, 2001. ... Responsibilities include covering industry-sponsored symposia and scientific sessions. Journalist must be able to guarantee 2-4 placements in medical trade publications targeting general practitioners and/or diabetes specialists." Some NASW members, such as Boyce Rensberger, have pointed out that there is something wrong with having PR firms hire journalists to plant news stories favorable to their clients. "It is just plain wrong to deceive readers or viewers," Rensberger stated. "It is wrong to lead them to believe that the publication and the writer are exercising independent judgement if one or the other has been paid by a source or an agent for a source." Others, such as NASW board member Joel Shurkin, point out that "We have members who do these things and feel good about themselves in the morning, and they cannot be ignored. This practice has been going on for years." The debate appears in the August 2001 archives of the NASW listserve, under the subject heading, "Double-dipping and journalistic integrity."