Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

CMAJ osteoporosis guideline embargo broken inadvertently

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In response to an embargo break earlier this week on a new set of osteoporosis treatment guidelines, CMAJ senior strategist for communications and partnerships Kim Barnhardt sent this email to the journal’s press list this morning:

On Monday, osteoporosis guidelines in CMAJ that were embargoed until 12:01 a.m. Tuesday were published online in the afternoon by several major Canadian media outlets (The Globe and Mail, Canadian Press and Postmedia News). Because it was Thanksgiving in Canada, the break was not discovered until the evening and the information had been widely distributed.

We spent Tuesday unraveling the chronology of the break, as it was unclear who had first broken the embargo. After some digging, we discovered that Postmedia News inadvertently broke the embargo and The Globe, CP and other outlets had subsequently posted the information as was appropriate. When an embargo is broken, CMAJ immediately lifts the embargo as the information has become public.

The break was not the fault of the reporter, Sharon Kirkey but occurred when the article was being processed for posting on websites. Postmedia has followed up on the specific problem and told us it respects our embargoes and will honour them. There will be no sanctions as it was clearly accidental.

We apologize for any confusion and delay regarding this break. The osteoporosis guidelines are an important addition to the literature and we appreciate your support and understanding. Thank you.

This is thorough, transparent, and quick. Lifting the embargo once someone has reported on something is almost always the right call. CMAJ also names names, and notes whether there will be sanctions, along with an explanation.

The only thing that was missing was a note to the press list saying the embargo had lifted early. Barnhardt told me by email that by the time she found out about the break — at dinnertime on Canadian Thanksgiving —  at least three Canadian outlets had run the story, so the journal didn’t send anything out. That probably still would have been a good idea, but I can see her point.

So with that exception, I have nothing to add but kudos to CMAJ for how they handled this.

Further reading: I was on a panel on embargoes with Barnhardt at the Canadian Science Writers Association meeting in Ottawa in June.

Written by Ivan Oransky

October 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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