Getting it right for The Times, and in a hurry

Journalists who cover medicine must do so under severe time constraints and often under pressure from people hoping to exact commercial or political profit, said Gina Kolata, a medical reporter at The New York Times who gave the first Margaret Roth-Glynis McKiernan Annual Lecture during dermatology grand rounds in September. Typically, she said, publicists swamp her with letters, e-mails, faxes and phone calls, all touting a real or perceived advance in medical care. “One of the things you start to ask yourself is, ‘What am I supposed to believe and how am I supposed to believe it?’ ” she said. Her skepticism about a press release promoting an exercise regimen led her to a physician who had lost his license in New York for fraud and mistreatment of patients. “The onus in medical reporting is really on the reporter. You have to get it right. Sometimes you have to get it right in a very short time. It’s an imperfect system. I don’t know if there’s a better one.”