An expensive way to see WOTS what

Whatever else you say about the Department of Health’s research into
newspaper journalists on the health beat, you can’t fault its
thoroughness.

The government department hired consultants
Millward Brown to investigate the impact of writers covering the NHS,
not just to assess which were the most influential but also to gauge
which are most likely to portray stories about the health service in a
positive way.

Not shy of fancy media terminology, the firm
measured its targets using a system of Weighted Opportunities to See
(WOTS), which use readership figures and take into account the size,
position and prominence of each article as well as whether or not it
was illustrated.

Each piece was then “measured by trained
researchers” to decide whether it was positive, negative or neutral in
its approach to the story, by considering the content and tone of the
article.

Regular and random quality checks are undertaken and a complete audit trail is kept on a database.

And it wasn’t just national newspapers that were measured. The report also covered regional titles in six regions.

Comprehensive stuff.

And
no doubt the Daily Mail and The Sun’s Nic Cecil will be using the
findings to trumpet their respective poll-topping positions as
newspaper and journalist with the most clout.

But at £200,000, is
this really how the DoH should be spending its money? Our money? What
possible justification for this sort of spending can there be, other
than to satisfy the hunger of ministers with an already unhealthy
preoccupation with spin for information about how their message is
getting across?

The health department insists that journalists
whose coverage is not considered positive will not have the findings
held against them by press offices.

We’ll take that with a healthy dose of salt.

And
as we consider that other government departments are likely to follow
the Department of Health’s lead, let’s note one final point from the
research. Of all the plethora of tables and charts produced for the
survey, one stands out. It’s from the research in the South East,
showing which “spokespeople”

provided positive or negative
comments about the health services. In among the list of Labour MPs,
health ministers and secretaries of state who talked to regional
newspapers about health issues, only one shows as “negative” in their
views.

It’s an NHS patient.

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