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From the Observatori de la Comunicació Científica, Pompeu Fabra University, and Quark, Ciencia, Medicina, Comunicación y Cultura , Barcelona, Spain.
Context.— Scientific journals issue press releases to disseminate scientific news
about articles they publish.
Objective.— To assess whether press releases about journal articles were associated
with publication of subsequent newspaper stories.
Design.— Retrospective content analysis of newspaper stories, journal press releases,
and journal tables of contents. From December 1, 1996, to February 28, 1997,
press releases and tables of contents were collected from BMJ, Nature, Science,
and The Lancet, along with newspaper stories on scientific
research published in The New York Times (United
States), Le Figaro and Le Monde (France), El País and La Vanguardia (Spain), La Repubblica (Italy),
and the International Herald Tribune.
Main Outcome Measurements.— Number of newspaper stories that contained reference to articles appearing
in the 4 scientific journals, number of newspaper stories that referred to
journal articles described in press releases, and the order in which journal
articles were mentioned in press releases.
Results.— Of the 1060 newspaper stories analyzed, 142 referred to journal articles;
of these, 119 (84%) referred to articles mentioned in press releases and 23
(16%) referred to journal articles not mentioned in press releases (comparison
of proportions, P =.03). Articles described first
or second were referenced in more newspapers than articles described later
in the press release (P=.01 by χ2
Conclusions.— Journal articles described in press releases, in particular those described
first or second in the press release, are associated with the subsequent publication
of newspaper stories on the same topic.
MANY SCIENTIFIC journals now produce press releases to encourage journalists
working for the news media to bring the material they contain to wider audiences.
A study by Entwistle1 revealed that 81% of
journal articles mentioned in the British press were included in journal press
releases. In a previous study of the Dutch press, Van Trigt et al2,3 concluded that press releases were
used by journalists as a source of ideas rather than as a source of information.
Do press releases set the agenda for science journalists publishing in the
general press? This study was conducted to examine, on the international level,
the possible association between the appearance of science journal articles
in press releases and publication of subsequent newspaper stories on the same
All newspaper stories on scientific research appearing between December
1, 1996, and February 28, 1997, were collected from 7 major general newspapers
from European countries and the United States: The New York
Times (United States), Le Figaro and Le Monde (France), La Repubblica (Italy), El País and La Vanguardia
(Spain), and the International Herald Tribune (a
European edition published by The New York Times
and The Washington Post). Simultaneously, tables
of contents and press releases were gathered from 4 scientific journals: BMJ, Nature, Science, and The Lancet. These journals were selected because they have been described by
journalists as being commonly consulted for scientific information.2,4
For data analysis, the following variables related to newspaper stories
were collected: publication (did the story refer to a scientific publication?),
sample (was the source scientific journal 1 of the 4 sample journals?), press
release (did the newspaper story refer to a journal article included in a
press release?), and source article (name of the journal that published the
source article and date of journal publication). We considered only those
newspaper stories that contained an explicit reference to the source (ie,
the journal in which the article was published). The following press release
variables were collected: number of press releases, article order (in what
order did the source article appear in the press release?), and newspaper
story references (how many newspaper stories mentioned a scientific journal
article that appeared in a press release?).
Between December 1996 and February 1997, the 7 newspapers in this sample
contained 1060 stories on scientific research. During this time, 393 journal
source articles were included in press releases.
A statistical test was used to compare the proportion of newspaper stories
that referred to journal articles that did vs did not appear in press releases.
Of the 1060 newspaper stories collected, 142 referred to journal articles
that appeared in 1 of the 4 journals during the sample period. Of these, 119
(84%) referred to articles that appeared in press releases and 23 (16%) referred
to articles that did not appear in press releases (P=.03).
Thus, journal articles that appeared in press releases were better represented
in the general press.
A similar analysis performed for each newspaper also found significant
differences, except for The New York Times (no significant
difference) and La Repubblica (the number of newspaper
stories that referred to journal articles was too small to yield any conclusion).
Was there an association between the order in which an item appeared
in a press release and coverage of the topic in the general press? Of the
393 articles that appeared in press releases, 65 were mentioned at least once
in the sample newspaper stories. The remaining 328 articles received no mention.
We found an association between article order and newspaper story references.
The higher priority a journal article was given in a press release, the more
it was referred to in the general press (Table 1).
This study demonstrates an association between appearance of a journal
article in the journal's press release and subsequent publication of a story
on the same topic in a national newspaper. The order in which a journal article
appeared in the press release was also associated with the number of newspaper
stories published on the same topic.
de Semir V, Ribas C, Revuelta G. Press Releases of Science Journal Articles and Subsequent Newspaper
Stories on the Same Topic. JAMA. 1998;280(3):294–295. doi:10.1001/jama.280.3.294
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