Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

USA Today turns the tables, using a publicly available but embargoed Pediatrics flu guideline into an exclusive

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If there’s one thing that warms Embargo Watch’s heart, it’s a reporter who gives a journal that tries to embargo something that’s freely available a dose of its own medicine.

That’s what USA Today‘s Steve Sternberg did today to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which publishes the journal Pediatrics. I’ll let Steve — who has told an embargo story before on Embargo Watch — spin the tale in his own words. I’ve just added a few links.

I got the usual sort of advisory from Pediatrics saying that the journal planned to release a policy statement recommending mandatory influenza immunization of all health care personnel. The embargo was set to lift Monday at 12:01 am.

I started reporting the story. One of my sources suggested I check the Immunization Action Coalition website, which carries a listing of organizations and health-care providers that support mandatory flu shots for all health workers. When I checked the list, I found the as-yet-unpublished AAP position stated at the very top, along with a link to AAP News, which had posted an online story about the academy’s policy statement.

Since the AAP had broken its own embargo, I considered just writing a story and citing AAP News as the source. But I knew that the story would cause a commotion. The AAP press folks would inevitably accuse me of breaking the embargo, since they had sent along, at my request, an advance copy of the statement.

Though I knew that I could explain, I thought it would be best to avoid the flap altogether. Instead, I called AAP and explained what had happened. I also said I didn’t want to be penalized by my actions. That’s because if AAP responded to my call by sending out an advisory notifying reporters that they were lifting the embargo, my lead on the story would vanish.

I said I would like to run with the story — and that I hoped AAP would hold off on sending out an advisory until after my story appeared. After an internal discussion, AAP agreed.

That’s why the story’s in today’s USA TODAY.

Steve’s story went live sometime last night, and at 11 a.m. this morning, the AAP sent this out to its press list:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is lifting the embargo on the policy statement, “Recommendation for Mandatory Influenza Immunization of All Health Care Personnel,” scheduled for publication in the October print issue of Pediatrics (to be published online Sept. 13). An AAP Web site inadvertently published a report on the policy statement earlier this week.

Kudos to Steve for being well-sourced and for checking things out.

A half-nod goes to the AAP, too, for not making the same mistake twice. (It’s a half-nod because they still embargoed something that was already public in, um, one of their own publications.) Last October, the AAP refused to lift an embargo on a study showing that more children had autism than officials previously thought, even after members of the autism community had already published stories on the subject, thanks to a CDC press conference.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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