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Message from the MGH

Proto's journalistic mandate, by Peter L. Slavin and David F. Torchiana.

FAll 2009
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With this issue, the experiment we call Proto enters its fifth year. Four years ago, we set out to try something we knew was unusual for a hospital. Though sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital, Proto wouldn’t focus solely on our research. Rather, we would, as we wrote in our first issue, “use our vantage point as a leading academic medical center to report on innovations occurring across the country and around the world.”

That approach was a trial of sorts. The results are preliminary, but one recent controversy suggests we’ve attracted some attention. The conflict arose after the Washington Post published edited versions of three Proto stories. We welcomed the wider exposure for news about biomedical progress. But a media reporter from the Post was less pleased, noting in a column that one story, “on why some people seem immune to AIDS, focused in part on a top physician at Massachusetts General Hospital…and ended with a dutiful disclosure that it was condensed from one that had run in Proto, the magazine of, yes, Massachusetts General Hospital.”

The hospital’s dual role as publisher and subject of the article posed a potential conflict. The Post’s concerns were echoed a short time later in a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. Yet while that story, too, worried about a conflict of interest, it went on to say, “The Washington Post’s piece on AIDS immunology was an interesting, informative article that seems to pass journalistic muster (indeed, the original article in Proto included many caveats and challenges to the research being covered).”

It’s precisely because our mandate is journalistic that our stories frequently include MGH researchers, many of whom rank at the top of their fields. The latest celebration of that fact came in early October, when Jack W. Szostak received the Nobel Prize in medicine for his groundbreaking research on telomeres. And because of that same mandate, when our writers contact experts at other great institutions, doors swing open. Scientists are remarkably generous with their time, seemingly understanding that we will report on their advances as evenhandedly as we can. And so it is that, in this issue’s story on new research into how cancer metastasizes, our web of sources moves out from cancer centers at the MGH and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston to New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Houston’s M.D. Anderson and Germany’s University of Regensburg.

As we carry on, we hope you will help us refine our experiment—a vehicle through which we can explore and share the vast frontiers of biomedical science. Let us know how we’re doing by clicking here.

Peter L. Slavin, M.D.
President
Massachusetts General Hospital
David F. Torchiana, M.D.
CEO and Chairman
Massachusetts General Physicians
Organization
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