Here's something you don't see often: on the same day, both NPR and the New York Times separately unleash long investigative articles critical of a drug, Vivitrol, made by a pharmaceutical company, Alkermes. The NPR story, provided by "Side Effects Public Media," is here. It ran at eight minutes, 15 seconds on "All Things Considered," which is pretty good play as far as NPR goes. The New York Times article is here; it ran on page one.
Now, maybe it is a total coincidence that NPR and the New York Times independently decided to pursue lengthy articles about this drug with the same skeptical-verging-on-hostile point of view. I emailed the NPR/Side Effects reporter and tweeted at the Times reporters to ask them about the "coincidence" and where they got the idea for the story; they did not respond. I also emailed Alkermes and got no response.
Vivitrol's use in response to the opioid epidemic and its public affairs strategy both seem newsworthy. What gets me, though, is the possibility that there may also be (on the evidence of these two articles, at least) an orchestrated anti-Vivitrol campaign that seems also newsworthy. It's not transparent to readers what is motivating it. Is someone funding a public relations firm to go around to reporters pushing anti-Vivitrol stories on a coordinated schedule? If so, who? Is it a competitor? Is it a fund that is short-selling Alkermes? (Yahoo Finance statistics indicate that the short interest in the company as a percent of float is substantial, at least compared to other drug companies I looked at. Nine percent short interest at Alkermes, versus one percent at Celgene, one percent at Gilead Sciences, two percent at Vertex, two percent at Alexion (though it's certainly possible that people are short Alkermes for reasons that have nothing to do with Vivitrol.)
Journalists have a tendency to divide the world into sources and targets, and to make deals with sources that allow them to cloak their identities in exchange for news tips. But if in fact the source of a story is an investor with a financial interest in hurting a company's stock price, or a company selling a competing product, it seems like the sort of thing that readers, or NPR listeners, might want to be aware of in assessing the story. If not, then I don't see how it would hurt for the reporters to say where their idea came from.