James N. Klapthor

Functional Foods Report Survives News Cycle Unpredictability
There are times in journalism when the business of news could not be more predictable. Declare a Congressman’s vote for sale, a behemoth business leader financially irresponsible, or a pop star a pedophile, and the headlines are guaranteed. These are the times when the news hole for one story shrinks, or even disappears, as another topic captures the attention of the Third Estate. And that’s where IFT found itself in March during the release of its Expert Report, Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges.

Journalists representing more than a half dozen respected national news outlets expressed great interest and were awaiting the release of the report in anticipation of covering IFT’s opinion on the future of functional foods and their effect on public health and the business of food. A couple of news outlets even requested tentative approval to release information from the report in advance, exclusively. Yet, when the release date—March 24 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.—came and went, nothing had been published. Why?

Much of the answer lies in the right-to-life debate.

Health reporters previously interested in covering functional foods got pulled off their regular beat and placed on the Terry Shiavo watch. Wall-to-wall coverage of her plight in Florida and her parents’ repetitive court battles nationwide to restore her feeding tube took precedence in the minds of editors coast-to-coast in print, online, and broadcast news outlets. Reluctantly, but with little option, IFT was forced to wait. But with a story that ultimately boasts a healthy shelf life, the functional foods report proved impossible to ignore.

Coverage trickled in. On the evening of the report’s release, in Chicago, IFT’s headquarters city, CBS affiliate WBBM-TV Ch. 2 featured a segment on the report and its recommendations during the 5 o’clock news. The station’s medical reporter Mary Ann Childers highlighted two key topics championed in the report: implement incentives to generate more money for research and development, and allow scientifically substantiated label claims. Her segment was seen by approximately 50,000 viewers.

Then the Scripps Howard wire service sent to its network of news outlets an 800-word article for Easter weekend release, bragging about the attributes of "Phoods," as it labeled the functional food topic. The article appeared in outlets like the Birmingham (Ala.) Post Herald. Momentum had begun.

In less than a week, the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press wrote its own original article on the IFT report, as did the Washington D.C.–based weekly Food Chemical News. In the latter, more than one page was dedicated to the topic. The report panel chair, Fergus Clydesdale, and co-author Gil Leveille were both quoted.

Picking up on the story, the public radio station in Massachusetts’ capital, WCFR-FM, interviewed Clydesdale for its original report during Monday morning drive on March 28.

Interest in IFT’s report crossed over from general consumer audience to business investor when, on April 1, the biweekly Kiplinger Finance published an original 400-word article on functional foods, highlighting IFT’s recommendations for bringing products to market. The article included the exact URL of the report (www.ift.org/ExpertReport) as accessible online. Within the week, the report’s home page recorded 600 new visits.

When the Associated Press finally released its coverage of the IFT report on April 6 the diagnosis was in: This was a story worth covering. Reporter Libby Quaid’s article went coast-to-coast. More than 150 news outlets picked it up that day, repeating important messages included therein. "More of these disease-fighting, health-promoting foods are finding a market," the article read, "according to the Institute of Food Technologists, the leading professional society in the food science field." The article also confirmed that the Food and Drug Administration was already reviewing the report, and it concluded by including IFT’s Web site.

Online outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, ABC News, and others ran it at the top of its wire copy. Newspapers in Miami, Fla., Fort Worth, Tex., and Newark, N.J., with combined circulations over 1 million, have published it, as have others. To date, IFT has recorded more than 2,300 online visits to the functional foods report.

Predictions on the unpredictability of mass journalism will resume when release of the next IFT Expert Report nears.

by JAMES N. KLAPTHOR
Media Relations Manager
[email protected]