Objective: To examine whether the media are providing information to the public about important medical advances in a timely manner and whether the degree of importance is associated with other aspects of newspaper reporting (presence, extent, and prominence).
Design: The authors explored the amount, extent, prominence, and timeliness of newspaper coverage received by New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA articles published in 1988, by searching ten leading U.S. newspapers. The journal articles were independently rated based on the public's need to know the medical information contained in the article. The intraclass reliability coefficient for this need-to-know importance score was 0.77.
Measurements and main results: Overall, 35% of the journal articles received newspaper coverage (276/786). The articles were frequently covered by more than one newspaper [extensive coverage (161/276, 58%)] and often appeared on the front page [prominent coverage (42/276, 15%)]. Articles considered most important to the public (92/786, 12%) received more extensive and prominent coverage than did less important articles (p < 0.01). More than three fourths of the newspaper stories appeared within two days of the journal article's issue date. Stories about the most important articles appeared sooner than did those about the less important articles (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Articles reported in two prominent medical journals are often viewed as being important to the public, and these articles are receiving newspaper coverage that is extensive, prominent, and timely. This is particularly true for those articles considered most important to the public.