Forget swine flu, there’s urine in the pool!

I’m a little late to the party on this one.

I just received a news release from the Water Quality and Health Council announcing that one in five (unspecified) people admit to peeing in the pool.

From the news release:

One in five say they’ve done it (17%) – and eight in ten (78%) are convinced their fellow swimmers are guilty. As far as showering goes – forget it. Roughly one third (35%) pass the shower without stopping and three quarters (73%) say their fellow swimmers fail to shower before swimming.

If you’re like me, you may be wondering who exactly was surveyed, and whether the results are statistically valid. The rather lengthy release doesn’t say.

The WQHC, which I hadn’t heard of either, is an advisory group that is funded by the chlorine industry. So it should come as no surprise that the group suggests we should all protect ourselves by ensuring that our neighborhood pool is purchasing adequate amounts of chlorine. Also, you shouldn’t drink pool water.

And of course, the ick-factor of the release has inspired a fair amount of media coverage: here, here, here, here, and here.

Only a couple of these articles mention the study’s connection to the chlorine industry. The last one, from WBBM in Chicago, puts it right up front in the lede:

A lobbying group for the Chlorine industry is warning consumers not to swim in dirty pools.

Kudos to WBBM for doing their homework.

Business interests pay millions, if not billions, of dollars to PR firms in attempts to get their brands placed in news coverage, rather than buying traditional advertisements. I wonder sometimes if people who don’t work in media know about this dynamic.

One local company, Hopkins-based ARA Content, produces articles on behalf of paying clients and distributes them for free to newspapers. The articles, while accurate, are designed to promote specific companies and products, and are a tempting source of content for cash-strapped editors. Take a look at the site the news editors see:

ARAcontent provides free, high quality feature or special section content to editors, ad directors and publishers (print and online). … All articles are written or edited by professional journalists and include high-resolution photos.

…and compare it to what the advertisers see:

Our combination package allows you to develop one full length feature article that will appeal to editors at the nation’s largest dailies and weeklies.

Your messages, whether detailed or concise, will be seen by millions of consumers through placements in an even broader range of national newspapers. Your clippings will increase as you reach even more consumer targets!

Here’s my point: Newsgathering is expensive. Without some means for the public to pay for real reporting, the void will be increasingly filled by the entities who have the financial means to produce the copy that they want consumers to see.

So, who’s paying for the news that you’re reading?