Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Who gets access to embargoed content? EurekAlert revokes io9.com’s, but only briefly

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Yesterday, io9.com‘s Annalee Newitz was a bit puzzled. She tweeted:

According to AAAS, io9 does not merit access to embargoed science news and they deactivated my Eurekalert account without explanation!

Newitz was also concerned, because she needed that access to cover stories this week. This is the email EurekAlert senior communications officer Jennifer Santisi sent her:

Dear Ms. Newitz,

It has come to my attention that you are no longer employed with Wired magazine, and are currently the editor-in-chief of io9.com. Your account with EurekAlert! has not been updated to reflect this change. Unfortunately, this media outlet does not meet the criteria required for EurekAlert! registration.

EurekAlert! values and recognizes the diversity of the science journalism community. However, EurekAlert!’s policies regarding access to embargoed news, in adherence to Securities Exchange Act guidelines, outline that access is provided only for on-staff and freelance reporters employed by accredited news media outlets. All applicants and media outlets are reviewed based upon objective criteria including, but not limited to: the volume and frequency of original news content produced; the nature of any professional roles assumed in addition to staff/freelance reporter; and the demonstrated need for access to embargoed information.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but I must deactivate your registration with EurekAlert! at this time. Please note that you may still access the many public sections of our Web site, which include our Breaking News section, archive of over 80,000 press releases and more. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

That wouldn’t have made much sense to me, knowing what io9 — a part of the Gawker empire — does on a day-to-day basis: They cover science news. Of course, it didn’t make much sense to Newitz either, who wrote back:

Can you explain to me why io9 doesn’t meet your criteria? We cover science stories every day, and were named one of the top 30 science blogs by the London Times. I am a trained science journalist, and was awarded a the Knight Science Journalism fellowship at MIT. I use Eurekalert on a daily basis to find stories and contact information for experts.

Please explain what criteria I and my publication must meet in order for you to reactivate my account.

The reply:

io9 was evaluated back in October by a colleague of mine who is on vacation until March 24th, so I will be able to speak with her once she returns. From what I can see, the outlet is a science fiction blog and does not meet editorial guidelines established for EurekAlert! registration. EurekAlert! access is restricted for media outlets that report breakthroughs in science and technology. When evaluating a media outlet, we rely on the “About” section of a website, which does not offer any information on io9’s website. Please note, this is in no way a reflection on your credibility or journalism experience. If I have misunderstood the purpose or intent of the website, I would be more than happy to re-evaluate if necessary.

Newitz responded — politely, I should add, as did Santisi throughout:

io9 is, in fact, a science and science fiction blog. We cover science and technology breakthroughs many times per day, which you can see here: io9.com/science. We have three full-time science reporters on staff including myself. Our articles are routinely republished in places like New Scientist and Wired. We meet every qualification listed on your website for Eurekalert access.

If io9 was evaluated back in October and deemed wanting, why was I not contacted? Why wait until today to cut me off? I have been a Eurekalert member, and have spoken at AAAS meetings, as editor of io9 for nearly four years and this has never come up as an issue. My staffers have attended previous Eurekalert news briefings as io9reporters and have never been told there was a problem.

As a professional science writer and editor, I need to use the Eurekalert service every day, and it’s going to severely undermine my ability to meet deadlines this week if I can’t access the site. I would respectfully ask you to reinstate my account today.

And then things ended well. Santisi agreed to give io9 its access back:

Thank you for explaining the situation, I will gladly reinstate your access. The evaluation was made previously for a reporter on your staff, Esther Inglis-Arkell. It’s possible my colleague did not explore further into the type of stories io9 publishes. I was only made aware of the situation today since the Science journal team alerted me to your publication change– your profile with EurekAlert! was never updated. We require journalists to update us with their information if their publication has changed since they originally registered.

Newitz seemed satisfied with the outcome, and the problem was resolved very quickly, to EurekAlert’s credit. Newitz even took a lesson from the experience, updating io9’s About page so that it was clear the site covered science. (Before that, the About page was basically a masthead.) As Newitz notes, that’s an important thing for writers applying for EurekAlert access to keep in mind.

I was still puzzled by the delay from October to yesterday, however, and whether it was typical for EurekAlert to revoke an organization’s access without speaking to them first and trying to suss out whether they were eligible in the first place. I asked Santisi about that:

Thanks for your interest. The EurekAlert! registration and review process seems to have worked in this case. As you know, access to embargoed content on EurekAlert! is granted to reporters working on-staff, or on a freelance basis, and includes a large number of science news bloggers. Across all media, eligible reporters should have no dual affiliations that might pose a conflict of interest or a potential violation of SEC guidelines. In reviewing online reporter-registrants, we try to evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, whether the site adheres to basic journalistic standards for objective science news reporting. Obviously, individual cases may present us with many shades of gray in today’s rapidly changing online world. We remain open to re-evaluating any registration request and we also call upon external advisors, as needed.

The chronology of the io9 registration is somewhat unclear because it first came across the transom during a staffing transition. But yes, we’re legally obligated to ensure that only credentialed journalists have access to embargoed content on our site, so we do promptly remove registrants if it seems they might not be eligible. As EurekAlert!’s new editorial director, however, I spoke with the applicant and concluded she is indeed a journalist working for a bona fide media outlet. I hope she’ll enjoy continuing to use EurekAlert!.

Those seem like reasonable explanations, and given how quickly they fixed the problem, it’s hard to find fault. The “shades of gray” issue has come up before, and is likely to come up again.

But given the fact that Santisi cited conflict of interest and SEC guidelines, I’ll use this opportunity to suggest that EurekAlert apply this spring cleaning more broadly, as RiceMason did earlier this year. The fact is that media lists get messy over time, which is probably why I get messages from reporters wondering how PR firms know about embargoed studies in particular journals before they’re on EurekAlert, and how some Wall Streeters are getting access too.

Hat tip: Jeremy Hsu

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

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