Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

U.S. Census Bureau reinstates embargo, and has it promptly broken

with one comment

After 18 months without an embargo policy, the U.S. Census Bureau reinstated theirs on May 3. This was the top of a message that went out to reporters on April 29:

The Census Bureau is reinstating its Embargo Policy, which allows embargo access to select news releases and data products, effective immediately. The first product that will be available for embargo are the 2010 Census Demographic Profiles, which will be posted to the embargo site at 10:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, May 3 for public release at 12:01 a.m. EDT Thursday, May 5. Wire and distribution services are prohibited from distributing embargoed news releases and data files to subscribers before the public release date and time.

Access to the Census Bureau’s embargo site is limited to members of accredited media who give their chief attention to the gathering and reporting of news. Applicants must be employed or represent news organizations that regularly publish or broadcast a substantial volume of news material for public consumption. Note that the new embargo policy grants access to individuals, not organizations. Individuals are responsible for complying with the embargo policy, and cannot share their  access information with others, even those within their same media outlet. See Accreditation Requirements for more information on embargo qualifications.

The reinstatement did not go entirely smoothly. This went out on May 9:

Embargo Subscribers:

Thank you for participating in the Census Bureau’s embargo program.

On Tuesday May 3 at 10:00 am eastern time the Census Bureau embargoed the first set of data products under our new embargo policy.  The embargo policy is available on our website at http://www.census.gov/newsroom/embargopolicy.html.  I encourage each of you to review the policy each time you sign on to the site until you are familiar with it.

For the most part, the roll-out of the embargo policy, website, and products went well.  However, we did experience a break in embargo by a reporter, which caused us to release the data about 1.5 hours before it’s planned release.  Per our embargo policy, embargo access for the individual responsible for the break was suspended and will remain so for 6 months. At the end of the 6 month period, the individual can reapply for embargo access.  We take very seriously, our need to protect the integrity of our data and provide equal opportunities for media access to our information  and products.  Note that per the policy, “Wire and distribution services are prohibited from distributing embargoed news releases and data files to subscribers before the public release date and time.”

As we move forward during this first month of embargo access, we will continuously monitor the embargo program for any necessary changes or  updates.  Your comments regarding the embargo program and policy are

Thanks again for your interest in our embargo products and for following the embargo guidelines.

It’s unclear who broke the embargo. The fact that the email refers to a prohibition on “wire and distribution services” suggests it was that type of outlet, but Google Realtime searches aren’t very helpful in this case.

Nor is it clear why the Bureau suspended their policy for a year and a half. I tried to find out more about the breaker, and the rationale, but Stanley J. Rolark, chief of the public information office, said only:

Thank you for your interest but we don’t discuss internal matters.

Update, 7 p.m. Eastern, 5/23/11: There was apparently a second embargo break, according to an email Rolark sent his press list earlier today:

This is week 4 of the Census Bureau’s renewed embargo program.  Thank you all for participating.  I think we’ve worked out all the start-up kinks and now all seems to be proceeding smoothly.   We’ve had two instances of articles appearing before the public release of embargoed data.   In both instances, the reporters were notified and removed from embargo access for 6 months per our policy.  Moving forward we’ll continue to do all we can, including convening technical webinars, to make sure each of you has the data and information you need to prepare your articles.  If you ever need our assistance, please feel free to contact us on…

Hat tip: Gregory Korte

Written by Ivan Oransky

May 23, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Pretty hilarious that the chief PIO of the US census bureau won’t discuss internal matters.

    Larry Husten

    May 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

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