Thursday, February 21, 2008

Real Information or Advertorial? The Daily News Makes It Hard To Decide

Mount Sinai Medical Center May Be Happy. So What If It's Shoddy Reporting?

Admittedly, I'm more of a reader of the New York Daily News online nowadays than in print. But I picked up a copy of the paper yesterday to help pass the time during a flight and stumbled upon what looked like an advertorial, similar to two others that were in the paper.
But on closer examinaton, there was no disclaimer like "advertising supplement to The Daily News" attached.
Instead, it was full-fledged article about sleep apnea by Katie Charles for what purports to be a regular column called "The Daily Checkup," which is actually weekly.
The problem: while there's lots of information about sleep apnea, its symptoms and risks, it quotes throughout but one doctor, Allison Schecter of Mount Sinai Hospital, who also gets a rather out-sized photo in the middle of the one-page spread.
No disputing Schecter's bona fides, but since when does an alleged health reporter content herself with a single source? And why would one or more editors think that was also OK?
This wasn't an aberration. On Feb. 13, Charles wrote an article about heart disease with a single source from, you guessed it, Mount Sinai, complete with big picture. It even had a fluffy headline -- A Mount Sinai cardiologist makes sure your heart's in the right place.
The hospital didn't have to buy an ad, it had the News write one up for them in the guise of an article. Just doctor ordered, maybe, but an editor?
What gives, if not just the fact the Charles and her editors are extremely lazy? There's no sign or disclaimer that the News and Mount Sinai are working together on a health series, a dubious proposition in and of itself. But if so, it's an arrangement that should be disclosed.
If it's just a coinky-dink that two Mount Sinai docs are profiled, fine. But there's nothing wrong with a little shoe leather on the health beat, just like what's demanded at the News by those working in the police shack, covering the Yankees or Bloomberg.
Having a single source means you're not getting the whole story, no matter how authoritative the source. It's a hospital flack's wet dream, which usually equates to lousy journalism.
In its current form, The Daily Checkup should check out.

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