Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

New England Journal of Medicine gets smart about early morning embargoes, maybe to avoid a Pew

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Embargo Watch was on an unscheduled hiatus — or under embargo? — for a week following my father’s death on August 27. Thanks for all of the kind thoughts from Embargo Watch readers and others. Over the next few days, I’ll be catching up with some of the embargo news from last week, starting with this post.

On August 26, there was an unusual note tacked onto an email from the New England Journal of Medicine to its press list about “articles to coincide with presentations or press conferences preceding presentations at the European Society of Cardiology [ESC] Congress” taking place that following weekend in Stockholm:

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SUNDAY 2 AM ET EMBARGO means that you must ensure that the online version of a printed newspaper story does not go live with the rest of Sunday’s paper, and is held until 2 AM ET.

The ESC meeting, I should note, has already been the subject of an Embargo Watch post that spawned the term “retrobargo” after the press office sent out an embargoed message hours after the embargo.

The NEJM email was about two papers embargoed for Sunday, August 29: One showed that adding omega-3 fatty acids to margarine didn’t cut the risk of heart attacks — here’s coverage by my Reuters colleague Ben Hirschler — while the other was about whether a particular genetic mutation had any effect on the ability of the blood thinner Plavix to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Ben covered that one too.

The email language caught my eye because of two recent incidents involving reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts and unclear embargoes timed to a particular day’s paper. In one, as I wrote, “the Pew Charitable Trusts accused USA Today of breaking an embargo on a report on drug safety, but then didn’t seem that upset about it, probably because it wasn’t entirely clear what time the embargo actually lifted.” USA Today figured In the other, Pew’s materials were similarly embargoed “for Thursday a.m. publication.”

But what does “embargoed for a particular day’s paper” really mean nowadays, when stories go online the night before?

I asked Karen Buckley, NEJM’s media relations manager, whether that question was what informed the unusual language. She responded by email:

These early-morning European-meeting embargoes are always tough.  The difference between midnight and 2 AM doesn’t mean that much if you’re on the East Coast, but if you’re a reporter waiting for the press conference at ESC, it’s infuriating when an online story is posted an hour or two early, and I always hear about it.  In the past, we have tried forbidding publication in Sunday’s print paper altogether (with the idea that it prevents early posting mistakes, and  levels the playing field for European print publications, since whether you’re in Europe or L.A., the story is in Monday’s paper), but that was never met with great fanfare.  I find that often reporters don’t know when their Sunday newspaper gets posted on the web, but now that our notice has made them aware that this is a concern, I’m going to let them take responsibility for finding out and hope for the best!

Seems like a good idea to me. I’d suggest it to the Pew, along with stating clear embargo times.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 7, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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