Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stem Cell Media Coverage to Crow About

By many measures, the $20 million gift to UCLA this week brought major media attention to the stem cell research efforts in the Golden State.

The size of the gift by Eli Broad, the presence of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a set-up story Monday morning in the Los Angeles Times all drove the coverage. But so what? Who cares about PR, right?

But when 55 percent of the public nationally says it has little or no knowledge of stem cell research, the field still needs major help. And Monday's event was a chance to tell a positive tale – one that did not involve warnings of expensive therapies, dubious results or even research fraud.

To give you an idea of the sweep of the attention, a Google Web search on the term "UCLA stem cell million broad" generated 244,000 hits this afternoon. That compared to 487,000 for "CIRM" alone. But the institute has been around for nearly three years, and it is naturally going to generate more response. The number of hits on the UCLA/Broad story is likely to climb in coming weeks as other outlets and Web sites pick it up.

The story ran internationally and on television and radio, which are the prime sources of news for most people. Newspapers and the Internet remain a secondary source.

One observer connected to the event, who must remain nameless, provided a summary of the coverage that said the story was

"...featured Monday and Tuesday by the Associated Press, Los Angeles Daily News, City News Service, KNBC-TV, KCBS-TV, KABC-TV, KCAL 9 News, KTTV-TV, KTLA, Bloomberg News, KPCC 98.3 FM, KNX 1070 AM, KFI 640 AM, Telemundo 54, Univision, Chinese Daily News, Sing Tao Newspaper and LA Channel 18.

"Dr. Owen Witte, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, was quoted in English language outlets. Stem cell researcher Luisa Iruela-Arispe, professor and vice-chairman of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, was quoted in Spanish language outlets. Stem cell researchers Yi Sun and Dr. Andy Huang are quoted in Chinese language outlets.

"The AP story also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Houston Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pravda, Press-Enterprise, Enterprise Record (CA), Contra Costa Times, Monterey County Herald, San Jose Mercury News, San Luis Obispo Tribune and the Daily Breeze.

"The Los Angeles Daily News story also appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily, Pasadena Star News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun and the Long Beach Press Telegram. The Los Angeles Times today ran a photo of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at UCLA announcing the gift."

One story helped particularly to drive the coverage, a Los Angeles Times article on Monday morning ahead of the actual event(see item below). The piece put the gift in the broader perspective of stem cell research growth in California, declaring that the donation and others recently "position California universities at the forefront of the promising scientific field." That type of buildup helps to focus the attention of harried TV and radio assignment editors and helps to convince them to give a story major play.

The governor's office announced last Friday that a news event would occur involving the gift, but the size was not disclosed until Monday's story in the Times, which appeared to have it exclusively. Crafty media relations people sometimes provide such key information to an influential news outlet such as the Times in advance of an actual event to help drive coverage media. We do not know whether that occurred in this case, but it is probably a good bet.

Adding frosting to this stem cell cake was the use of researchers who could speak in languages other than English, which is important in a diverse state such as California, but very important as well for international coverage.

Photo Information: The photo above was found on a conservative web site, which seemed to be using it in a fashion that would trigger negative reaction from conservatives. The original source of the photo was not given. Left to right, Broad, the governor and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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