James N. Klapthor

In media relations, there are many ways to measure the coverage that messages gain through the news media outlets that deliver them.

One of the most popular and affordable is the use of clipping services—of both print and broadcast media—that provide hard data easily digested into a quantitative analysis of IFT’s inclusion into the news of the day.

An affordable way to generate qualitative analyses of IFT’s media relations with journalists who publish and broadcast the news is a simple examination of unsolicited media inquiries to IFT’s Office of Science, Communications, and Government Relations. The following such review reveals a favorable trend of annual increases in journalist interest.

In 2001 IFT received and responded to well over 200 unsolicited inquiries from journalists seeking food science expertise—favorable results, considering that Al Qaeda terrorism and anthrax attacks commanded significant attention from the news media for months, essentially eliminating coverage of other topics during the final quarter of the year. In fact, the news media’s enormous interest in terrorism was diverted only by massive scandals at Enron Corp. and Andersen accounting that drove and kept journalists in a frenzy on topics far removed from food. Despite this, the rate of requests for IFT expertise in 2002 increased by 6.5% over the previous year.

And the request rate is increasing again in 2003: In spite of a worldwide SARS scare and war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, interest in IFT’s expert perspective on food topics has driven journalist requests for information to increase by nearly 11% over 2002 figures and 18% over 2001 figures. Even factoring in monthly variations, 2003 is expected to show another favorable increase in journalist inquiries. Any way you slice it, there’s a rise in journalists’ interest in IFT.

Lately, that interest has resulted in favorable placement within the news. The Washington, D.C. bureau of the Associated Press wire service contacted IFT in late July seeking information and expertise on product development. IFT data show that the interest in this topic has spiked. And IFT Food Science Communicators did not disappoint. Al Bushway, University of Maine, provided AP first-hand perspective on the product development issue, revealing efforts by the blueberry growers of his state to give consumers new and innovative products utilizing this crop. The Associated Press distributes its news stories to 1,700 newspapers, 5,000 broadcast stations and 8,500 international news outlets; the interest in Bushway’s expertise resulted in coverage by dozens of news outlets, including The Washington Post, CBS Radio, ABCNews.com, and the NBC Today Show.

Similarly, AP also approached IFT’s Chicago office in August, seeking insight on genuine and imitation vanilla. Food Science Communicators Barry Swanson, Washington State University, and Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, became the reporter’s go-to source for information, and both were quoted within the business article, “Food processors, consumers see price of pure vanilla skyrocket.” Camire compared vanilla’s taste among connoisseurs. “It’s like wine,” she said. “Planting it in different places, it gives you different flavors.” Swanson relayed that he and other food scientists have found that some foreign products labeled as pure vanilla came instead from the tonka plant. He explained that such products contain a compound called coumarin that’s been found to be cancerous in studies on rats. Fox News Channel’s Web site picked up the story, as did The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune. FoxNews.com boasts 3.6 million unique visitors, and The Tribune has a daily circulation of a quarter-million.

It’s not only wire service reporters seeking insight who contact IFT. Popular consumer-oriented magazines that reach massive audiences also have sought out IFT for expert commentary. Food Science Communicator Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University, explained in the August issue of Redbook how coffee’s caffeine is processed by the body. Placed within the magazine’s regular Healthbook feature, Kroger’s information assisted readers wondering when and whether to have coffee at night. Published in New York City, Redbook has a circulation of more than 2.3 million.

Media Relations Manager