Nutrition of Promotional Baloney

Last week MSN ran an article in their Health News section called “Treatments for Multiple Myeloma.” The article was one of those written that really gives no solid information, it merely encourages people to take treatment by not giving any alternative. Further, their abbreviated advertisement –er, article, was fairly limited in the drugs it suggested. The article was accompanied by a slide show of photographs that had nothing I could determine to do with Multiple Myeloma. One showed a doctor speaking to a male patient, looking concerned and confident. Another showed a man’s wrist protruding from a suit jacket, featuring a wristwatch as if to say “Hurry!”  What a bunch of baloney. No, not bologna, there’s no meat involved figuratively or literally.

This is exactly the kind of tripe writing I dislike. Perhaps not as much as articles which promote false hope of cure, but articles like this come in a very close second. Click this sentence to read MSN’s article if you have some time to waste.

It’s not uncommon for me to write my own articles that denigrate junk journalism. The thing is, I kind of get why bad writing appears in so many places. Writers need employment, Multiple Myeloma is a complex subject, and pharmaceutical companies are large buyers of advertising. In my first career life I worked the broadcast end of radio as a new director. It was my job to digest the materials that came through the API and UPI teletype machines (does that date me or what?) and then rewrite them for inclusion in the station’s news segments and programs. It was also my job to write commercials for advertisers, recording them on tape cartridges that the announcing staff would play according to their traffic sheets. Traffic sheets are a kind of schematic –or plan for their air time. They got to choose the music, but from a list of acceptable records written up by the programming director. Only rarely did I get the chance to be a newshound, and actually go out and do interviews on some topic to generate my own news story. Of course, when I did, it would be fed into the teletype system where other news directors just like me would digest it and craft their own versions for broadcast on their stations.

It’s a lot more modern today, but there are similarities. Operational managers give assignments to writers, or writers generate articles and submit them to the various news disseminating vendors. The Myeloma Beacon comes to mind in terms of our particular genre. It’s no longer radio so much as blogs or blog formatted news companies like the Huffington Post or a huge list of others. There are now blogs within blogs, and link lists of blogs and other sources appearing on these clearinghouse website. I don’t say all of this to criticize them though, we need these sites because society has a voracious appetite for goings on and these organizations fill it. Unlike radio, the fact that there are as many of them as there are offers the ability for each to develop its own character or theme. Different people are attracted by different motifs and so it becomes easy for people to find their favorite sources of information. But it’s also true that because of the amazing volume of information that needs be generated in order to put out a daily or weekly publication, that some real stinkers are going to make their way to distribution.

The MSN article doesn’t qualify as an attempt to inform. At least not in any meaningful way. It is there to fill space, not unlike the little plastic pillows that shippers now use to guard our delivered items from damage in transit. Like the little pillows, they fill space but have no substance. To me, they represent a kind of danger, because they sometimes leave people thinking they just learned something, rather than being handed a nutritious dish to digest. The articles are there to pay homage to a sponsor, either by specific request, or as a bit of fresh air injection beneath the skirts of a paying benefactor. The MSN article could easily lead the uninitiated to believe that lenalidomide and thalidomide were the only two drugs available as first line treatments for Multiple Myeloma. The article, as far as I was willing to tolerate it, seemed to ignore the existence of doxorubicin and bortezomib, never mind their steroidal Siamese twin, dexamethasone. Offhand, I’d have to classify the article as half-assed. Certainly they managed to hit on the fact that different people rated different treatment, but their abbreviated approach left off possibilities like watchful waiting, which is the usual approach to MGUS, or smouldering Multiple Myeloma.

I don’t expect every article written to offer an in-depth analysis of every possible combination for initial or refractory diagnosis. But I do believe that articles should at least try to give a reasonable representation of available therapies if they’re going to go so far as to write and article at all. The space given over to unrelated images could have been much better used as a place for text. The Internet being what it is allows writers to offer hyperlinks to more in-depth materials. Of course, just like television “reality” shows blur out logos and company names who have not paid for commercial mention, one should not, I expect, risk offending some unseen master by linking to articles that demonstrate more expertise and savvy than their own informational representatives. Not without someone paying a fee, of course. Then too, if put on the spot and asked why an author failed to link to better material, I’m certain that copyright issues would be fallaciously raised. I say fallacious because a link to an entire article most certainly does NOT violate copyright; the link takes the reader to the original article in its original habitat and does a service to the author of the the article. After all, we all write because we want people to read our stuff.

I suppose I should grant some grudging appreciation for MSN doing at least something to raise Multiple Myeloma awareness, even if it’s wrong. After all, there’s an expression that says that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Of course, that’s just more baloney.