Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

65 minutes! NEJM breaks its own short embargo record — but it has an explanation this time

with one comment

I honestly didn’t think I’d see a new record in the short embargo race. The New England Journal of Medicine‘s under-two-and-a-half-hour record from last month had shaved just minutes off the last record, and it seemed unbeatable.

But never underestimate the world’s most prestigious medical journal: Today, NEJM clocked in with an embargo lasting just 65 minutes and 17 seconds.

At 3:54:43 p.m. Eastern, NEJM’s press office sent out a message saying that a study of stem cell models for particular heart rhythm disorder was embargoed until 5 p.m. They beat their own record.

That’s just over an hour to for the media “to learn about a topic, gather relevant information, and interview authors and other experts so they can accurately report complex research findings,” according to a passage from the NEJM’s embargo policy that Embargo Watch readers can probably recite from memory by now.

I called Karen Buckley, NEJM’s media relations manager, to ask about the short embargo. The Journal didn’t want to give reporters just over an hour, but issues related to their new website — launching in the next few days — made it difficult to post after 5 today.

“We are making efforts,” Karen told me. “We’re trying to work on our schedules to make sure this doesn’t happen. It’s easy to identify that it’s an issue, but it’s hard to figure out how to solve it.”

The Journal’s interest is sending studies to the media promptly so they can report on them, she said. “It’s not that we sat down and we said, ‘65 minutes is enough time.’ We’re really sorry that the media isn’t going to have enough time to digest the information.”

I’m sympathetic to technical issues, but it’s still just 65 minutes, as I told Karen. I also suggested that the email to reporters could have included some sort of “we wanted to give you more time message but couldn’t” to at least acknowledge the short embargo. But I appreciated NEJM’s openness, as always.

I might have to put an asterisk next to this one, sort of like Major League Baseball did for Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961.


Written by Ivan Oransky

July 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. NEJM’s newish habit of pushing stuff out mid-afternoon with very short embargoes is hugely frustrating.
    A 65-minute embargo is absurd. But equally absurb are the many times the journal sends out an advisory saying “An embargo on the following will lift at 5 p.m. ET today” with the phrase “we expect to post pdfs of the papers on the website by 4 p.m.” or whatever. They actually drop papers with no notice and then don’t have the papers available.
    The rationale completely escapes me. On any given day there are 3, 5 or more decent studies one could write about coming from a variety of journals and any number of other topics to explore. By mid-afternoon, medical journalists are generally fully engaged in producing that day’s story. Unless the NEJM drop contains huge news, we aren’t going to junk what we’re doing to do what they are releasing. So the material falls away.
    I remember one time the journal released, with virtually no notice, a really interesting commentary by Tachi Yamada, head of the Gates Foundation’s global health program. It was on a subject I follow closely and I wanted to do something on the commentary, even though I was also writing another story that day. But Yamada himself was unaware the journal was going to push the commentary out that day and he was not reachable. I got an interview the next day and wrote the piece, but I didn’t see any other coverage of his commentary. Which begs the question: What was served by pushing the commentary out like that?


    Helen Branswell

    July 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

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