Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Recent changes to the EurekAlert! embargo agreement

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One day last week, I got an email from EurekAlert!, the press release clearinghouse run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with a new embargo agreement for me to sign. I had made some changes to my EurekAlert! profile, which triggered the need for an update. (Sorry, they use the exclamation point, so I’ll do so here, even though it looks like frantic spam here on the blog.)

The agreement — pasted below — includes several provisions that weren’t in the version I signed in March 2009, and changes to others. Two of the changes — points 4 and 6 — suggest that entire news organizations can be held responsible for a single reporter’s embargo break.

The other, point 5, asks reporters to vouch that they aren’t any of the following: “financial consultant/investment advisor, policy analyst, public information/marketing professional, researcher, or manuscript editor/reviewer at a peer-reviewed journal.”

I don’t find the changes particularly controversial. Neither did Lauren Gravitz, a Los Angeles freelancer who responded to a tweet I sent out last week asking for reactions. Lauren signed the agreement in February of last year.

“I don’t know that I’m particularly bothered by the additions, largely because I suppose I’d assumed that most of them were a given,” she wrote me by email. “After 10 years in this business, I’ve heard enough stories of broken embargoes to know what the consequences usually are, including consequences for the entire organization as a result of an individual’s mistake.”

Still, I figured I’d contact EurekAlert! to find out when they’d made these changes, and why. Turns out they were made last fall, senior communications officer Rahman A. Culver told me by email:

Changes to the embargo-agreement language were made in consultation with our external advisory board in Fall 2009 as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that all of our policies are concise and clear to our users. They represented no change to our long-standing policies, but rather, were intended simply to clarify those existing policies. The updated agreement now includes explicit language about elements of our eligibility policies that have always been a part of our operations. Most notably, the updated language makes it more clear that reporters who register to access embargoed news agree to refrain from sharing their user passwords. Also, we clarified that we can’t grant embargoed access to individuals who have professional roles unrelated to journalism that may pose conflicts of interest (for instance, newsletter editor and investment analyst).


Here’s the current agreement:

EurekAlert! Embargo Agreement

I affirm, through my completion of this agreement, that I will follow EurekAlert!’s established embargo policies and uphold the posted embargo-release times for all embargoed materials accessed via EurekAlert!. I further affirm that I understand and will abide by the following provisions, outlined within EurekAlert!’s embargo policies:

· I will withhold the release of EurekAlert! embargoed news prior to its embargo-release time and date.

· I will take particular care to avoid disclosing EurekAlert! embargoed news to any person, list serve, news wire, publication, financial institution or other entity involved in advising others on the purchase of stock.

· I will refrain from sharing my EurekAlert! username, password or any embargoed materials taken from EurekAlert!.

· To the best of my knowledge, my media outlet has the proper protocols and procedures in place to ensure that embargoed content will not be released or broadcast prematurely — in print, broadcast or online — regardless of time zone.

· I am employed solely as a journalist and do not hold any other professional roles that may conflict or potentially be perceived to conflict with my reporting duties; such roles may include, but are not limited to: financial consultant/investment advisor, policy analyst, public information/marketing professional, researcher, or manuscript editor/reviewer at a peer-reviewed journal.

· I recognize that a breach of the EurekAlert! embargo provisions may result in the suspension of not only my EurekAlert! access and privileges, but for all individuals employed by my news organization, where applicable.

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

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