Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

So can Google Realtime really tell you who broke that embargo?

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One of the things that embargoing institutions — and those of us who blog about embargoes, a small but hardy group — often need to try to figure out is who first wrote about a story whose embargo hasn’t lifted yet. That publication, of course, would be most likely to face sanctions. And at the very least, it gives cover to other news organizations who say they’re just running their stories because someone else already had.

A tech blogger named Amit Agarwal posted an item at the end of last month with one way to find out who broke the embargo first. He pointed to Google Realtime search, and used it to show who broke the Google Priority Inbox embargo. Several other outlets picked up the post.

So I decided to test the method with a few breaks that happened while Embargo Watch was on hiatus the week of August 30. Here’s an early lift notice from the American Association for Cancer Research that went out at 2:43 p.m. Eastern on the 30th (I added a link to the AOL Health story). The release was embargoed until sometime on the 31st.

Due to an embargo break by AOL Health, the American Association for Cancer Research has lifted its embargo on the press release, “Diverse Diet of Veggies May Decrease Lung Cancer Risk,” and the study, “Variety in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Risk of Lung Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).”

That story showed up in my Google Realtime search when I searched for “vegetable lung cancer,” as part of a tweet at 1:08 p.m.  It didn’t show up for “vegetables lung cancer” or “veggies lung cancer,” however, both of which had the AACR’s Tara Yates tweet about the study appearing first, at 2:51 p.m.

So that was a qualified yes — it will show you who broke an embargo if you know exactly what words to search for.

Another one (or, just because I try to quote the late Warren Zevon whenever I can: “Let’s do another bad one, then, because I like it when the blood drains from Dave’s face”). This line appeared in a Puget Sound Business Journal story on Tuesday, September 7 (I added a link to the AP story):

The annual report was due to be posted online Wednesday, but the Associated Press, which received an advance copy from the foundation, released a story on the report Tuesday, according to a Gates Foundation spokeswoman.

That AP story, or at least the Huffington Post version, did appear in my search for “gates annual report.” But that’s because HuffPo tweeted it almost immediately.

So because Google Realtime relies on tweets for content, it may or may not actually tell you who broke the embargo first. You may need to do what I typically do, which is search Google News and then sort by date. (Erik Wemple did the same thing when writing about the Washington Post editorial page breaking an internal embargo at the paper’s news desk.) When I did that for “vegetables lung cancer,” the AOL Health story showed up as the first item on the AACR study. It also worked for “veggies lung cancer.”

Of note: Agarwal’s original tweet about his own column doesn’t show up in a search for “Find Who Broke the News (or the Embargo) First?” even though it’s exactly what he tweeted. The first appearance of that is a retweet, so his is at least findable. But it doesn’t show up at all in a Google News search for the same words.

Google being Google, they will probably find a way to combine News and Realtime somehow, and quickly. But until then, it might be better to do both yourself.

Thanks to Joe Bonner and Denise Graveline for flagging the Google Realtime post, Sally Church and Laura Newman for alerting me to the AACR break, and Eric Sorensen for letting me know about the Gates Foundation break.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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