Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

You’re doing it wrong: Sending material and calling it embargoed before an agreement doesn’t make it so

with 3 comments

photo by thelastminute via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/

See if you can guess what these quotations from three different emails have in common. They’re  redacted to protect the guilty, although I’m not quite sure why. The formatting is from the originals:

Subject: EMBARGO: [redacted] launches [redacted] channel on Youtube

[redacted] will announce tomorrow that it has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with [redacted]. [redacted] will have sole responsibility for marketing and selling the [redacted] in [redacted].

As you read through the embargoed survey results and release, attached

You can probably guess quite easily, but if not: These emails were all from PR people I didn’t know and contained material that was supposedly embargoed.

Except that I had never agreed to any such embargo.

If your inbox is anything like mine, it is full of embargoed releases. (So full, in fact, that I have to spend time most days cleaning it out so I don’t exceed my corporate email quota.) Most of them are from journals, societies, institutions, and companies with which I have had some relationship or agreement.

Then there are emails like the ones above.

Sorry, folks, but that’s not an embargo that deserves to stick. It happens that we wouldn’t cover any of the stories being pitched in those three emails, but what if we had wanted to? I would have felt no obligation to follow them.

That’s because embargoes are defined by getting materials because you’ve agreed not to publish anything about them until a certain date and time. When someone I don’t know sends me material in an email before I’ve agreed to any embargo, it’s not embargoed.

Even if EMBARGO appears in capital letters in the subject line.

Are we clear?

If we’re not, just do what Embargo Watch reader and guest contributor Brian Reid, of WCG, does. When he has embargoed findings, he sends an email with something like this for a subject line:

I Have Data For You (If You Agree to the Embargo)

See how clear that is? When I respond, it will be clear I now know about the embargo. And even then, if I don’t say “yes, I agree to the embargo,” which he details in the body of the email, then I don’t get the data.

PR folks, next time you have some embargoed news to share, make sure the journalist you’re talking to agrees to an embargo. Otherwise, you’re just asking to have that “embargo” broken.

Not to mention cheapening the idea of embargoes and the idea that they’re in place to benefit reporters.

Written by Ivan Oransky

October 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks for getting this out in the open. People who send something out unsolicited and without prior agreement of embargo terms by recipient now should be on notice that no embargo exists. If a journalist wants to voluntarily agree to the terms after the fact, that’s a personal choice. But there’s no obligation to do so.

    Scott Hensley

    October 21, 2010 at 11:18 am

  2. Thank you, thank you! So many don’t grok this. My mailbox is also full of such stuff and it drives me crazy they do not understand that I never agreed to honor the embargo with any of them.

    Bora Zivkovic

    October 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

  3. This obviously means that the Oransky web empire should be expanded to include NotEmbargoed.wordpress.con, where all of these “embargoed” press releases are released into the wild, where they can be free.

    Bob O'H

    October 22, 2010 at 2:38 am

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