Researching for Advocacy: The Industry Trade Press as a Resource for Activists

A recent report put out by the Berkeley Media Group, entitled, Navigating the Trade Press: What are the food and beverage industries discussing?, recommends public health advocates concerned with obesity regularly monitor various publications, including trade journals and magazines, to stay on top of the latest developments in the food and beverage industries. This review of the report features links to the report and key trade publications recommended for tracking.

To plan effective advocacy campaigns to change health-damaging corporate practices, activists need to understand what company managers are thinking and what business and political strategies they are planning.  Unlike big corporations and trade associations, few advocacy groups or independent researchers have the resources to hire investigators to gather this intelligence.  One practical and inexpensive alternative is to monitor business and trade press coverage of the industry in question.

A few years ago, the Berkely Media Stduies Group released a useful guide called Navigating the Trade Press: What are the food and beverage industries discussing? [pdf] It provides a starting point not only for activists seeking to change the food industry but also for other corporate campaigners who need an overview of the world of trade presses, business publications geared towards industry insiders.  In the report, author Lori Dorfman and Elena Lingas argue that “reading these sources makes it easier to articulate the divergent goals of public health and the food, beverage, and advertising industries,” enabling advocates, who often go up against companies with many times more resources, to more effectively and efficiently contest the practices of these industries that harm heath.

A web link to a 200-item annotated bibliography of key sources for tracking activities of these industries is a main highlight of Navigating the Trade Press. Separating the sources into business and science- focused categories, and then into tiers according to their direct proximity to issues of interest to most obesity prevention advocates, the report highlights the most relevant sources (including websites) for all public health advocates whose work is affected by these industries.  In addition to these sources, the report recommends that advocates choose specialty journals from the bibliography, in addition to the more general sources listed below, in order to stay on top of  industry practices that affect the issues they work on.   Dorfman and Lingas note that most sources offer an opportunity to sign up for periodic newsletters and news alerts via email, making it easy to monitor issues of interest.

Key sources for tracking food and beverage industry activities:

New York Times Business section (see especially the Advertising column)
Wall Street Journal Marketplace section
LA Times
Washington Post
Ad Age
Ad Week
Grocery Manufacturers of America
Food Institute
Food Chemical News
Obesity Policy Report

Some of these publications may require a subscription for viewing full contents on line. Most large public or university libraries have such electronic subscriptions, making these institutions a useful resource for activist researchers.

Future Corporations and Health Watch postings will examine how policy advocates can use the trade press of other industries (e.g., pharmaceutical, firearms, alcohol, tobacco, etc.) in their work. We invite readers to send suggestions to responses@corporationsandhealth.org

To read the full Navigating the Trade Press report and download the excel spreadsheet of food industry sources, please visit:

Mapping the Debate on Food