How to get off the JAMA blacklist
One of the first Embargo Watch posts was about what happens after a reporter is accused by the Journal of the American Medical Association of breaking an embargo and ends up blacklisted, unable to get JAMA’s embargoed material ahead of publication. In that post, I highlighted The Detroit Free Press‘ Pat Anstett and TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein, who lost their advance access privileges in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and haven’t gotten them back.
Last week, another member of the exclusive JAMA blacklist club got in touch: Steve Sternberg, now at USA Today. Steve’s story ends differently than Pat’s and Adam’s. Find out how he reversed the decision in his own words, with minor edits for flow as they were stitched together from a few emails:
I was struck from the subscription list of the Journal of the American Medical Association in the 1980’s, when my paper, then The Miami Herald, prematurely published a story I had written on the first HIV survival curve.
My story was based on an interview and a manuscript supplied by one of the researchers. I had not seen JAMA’s press material because I was out of town on assignment when the packet arrived in the mail. My story was written and date-stamped by the newspaper’s Atex computer system before I left.
Hence, I didn’t violate the embargo.
Nonetheless, JAMA sent out a press release announcing my, and my newspaper’s, banishment from its rolls. This freed me to report on JAMA studies at will, embargoes be damned, for months. Editor & Publisher reported on the controversy. Other news organizations, constrained by JAMA’s embargo, complained mightily.
The impasse was only broken after I called an AMA trustee from Miami, a distinguished local doctor whom I had gotten to know, and asked him to intercede. He did, thank goodness. Finally, the journal relented, acknowledged the misunderstanding, and reinstated my subscription.
I insisted that JAMA announce its decision in a second press release, and they did.
If it weren’t for that Miami doctor, I might still be breaking JAMA’s embargo. It was a pretty big deal at the time, and quite an adventure for a young reporter just learning the ropes. The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to have your editors’ backing. My city editor was indignant about JAMA’s handling of the mess and took great delight in the hooha. As did I.