Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Did you know The Lancet has two different embargo times?

with one comment

Keeping track of time zones when it comes to embargoes is tricky enough. But today I learned that the embargo for The Lancet may differ depending where in the world you’re sitting.

Colleagues of mine in the UK got a press release about a study coming out later today, embargoed for a minute after midnight tomorrow (Thursday) London time, or 7:01 p.m. Eastern today. My team got the same press release, but with an embargo time of 6:30 p.m. Eastern today.

I was puzzled, to say the least. When I asked Lancet press officer Tony Kirby about the discrepancy, he told me to go with 6:30 if I decided to cover the study:

We allow the embargo to lift 30 minutes earlier in real time in the US and Canada so that US east coast broadcasters can include news in their 1830H bulletins if they wish.

The exception has been in force at least since March 2007, when Tony started at the journal. I admit I hadn’t heard of it. Can anyone tell me if any other journals have the same policy?

Another note: Other than just deciding whether to cover the study, I was also looking into this because it was another example of a short embargo, this time just shy of nine hours. That’s more than twice as long as the four-hour New England Journal of Medicine embargo I wrote about last week, but it’s still just nine hours.

According to The Lancet’s embargo policy, “Journalists in health/medicine can benefit from an embargoed press-release service co-ordinated by our London and New York offices.” It doesn’t specify what journalists use the time before embargo for, as NEJM does, but it does say that for studies published online first, “A daily press release associated with the article in question will be released at least 24 hours before online publication.”

I asked Tony about that too:

While we normally like to give as much notice as possible, on this occasion for operational reasons I could not issue this release until today.

Again, I appreciate the quick and candid response, but I am still puzzled as to how a nine-hour embargo benefits journalists — or their audiences.

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. I can understand the 6:30p ET embargo, which allows US-based networks to cover on their evening newscasts. I also get 12:01a, a time that is easy to remember. But it seems to me a journal has to choose one time for all reporters. I wonder if this discussion might actually lead to a change at The Lancet.

    Regarding the short embargoes, it seems in both cases (this one and last week’s NEJM case) production issues delayed the release to reporters, shortening the embargo time. As one who sets embargoes for a couple of medical journals (Cancer and CA), I can understand not wanting to move the regular embargo time for a study that got held up. Still, I agree; what’s the point of any embargo at all if it’s less than 48 hours?

    David Sampson

    March 31, 2010 at 1:48 pm


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