“Dear press officer who won’t promote unembargoed research papers:” “[Y]ou’re disappointing me”
Some press officers are making Angela Hopp — and please forgive me for this one, Angela — hopping mad.
In “An open letter to press officers who won’t promote unembargoed research papers,” Hopp, who serves as the press contact for three journals published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), explains that at those journals:
All accepted papers are published online immediately, putting them in the public sphere and making them ineligible for embargo.
(I’ll pause there for there a moment and make sure that the press officers who think they can embargo material that’s already freely available online read the part about such studies being “ineligible for embargo.”)
There’s plenty of material in ASBMB’s journals that press officers find of enough interest to press release. But when Hopp contacts some of them, she gets this response:
“The press office will not consider a paper for a press release after it publishes.”
Hopp thinks the idea that “press release = embargo” is a bad one, and doesn’t mince words:
I promise: I get you. I respect you. And that’s why I have to tell you that you’re disappointing me. Your refusal to promote research papers that cannot be embargoed is undermining the researchers you represent, devaluing their work and diminishing your profession.
Still, Hopp understands the rationale, and is sympathetic:
Your job is more intellectually challenging and time consuming than most people, including scientists and journalists, realize. You are burning calories like crazy running around your campus, donning bunny suits to get into the clean rooms and glad-handing politicians visiting new research centers. Some (overworked or lazy) reporters will disregard your unembargoed press release. Yes, writing about an unembargoed paper puts you at a disadvantage.
But you can and, in many cases, should do it anyway.
Hopp’s right, and I can demonstrate why, from the journalist’s perspective: In October 2012, I wrote:
…since I run a little health news service at Reuters that reaches millions of people, I can quantify just how much embargoes drive our coverage. By the end of October, we will have covered 122 studies from journals for our consumer service. Of those, 45 were embargoed — but we didn’t hit the embargo on 12 of them, because we had better things to do, like cover more interesting studies that weren’t embargoed. And sometimes when we did cover such studies, it was knowing they weren’t terribly compelling, but we wanted to get better reporting out there than I suspected some of our competitors will do. (I like to think of that as using the power of bigfooting for good.)
One limitation of my “study” is obvious: I’m the one making the decisions. But I know we’re not alone in seeking out studies that were neither press-released nor embargoed, because I see big news outlets covering those kinds of papers every day.
I should note that very few of the unembargoed studies we covered had been press-released. I was one of the rare journalists, as Hopp puts it, who was “trolling journal websites to see which papers have just been accepted and published online.” And that means I’d take Hopp’s advice even further, and suggest that promotion doesn’t always require a press release.
Here’s Denise Graveline saying that more eloquently, with an entry from her 10 Big Myths About Embargoes:
- Reporters won’t cover your story if you don’t embargo it. Nonsense. In fact, an embargo signals “everyone will have this,” which, while fair, doesn’t make the heart of the journalist beat faster. Why not tip reporters off to stories with the idea that the rest of the pack hasn’t found this gem yet? It’s like catnip, and a great alternative to putting embargoes on less-than-compelling stuff.
I’ll leave you with one of Hopp’s recommendations, which is spot on:
Don’t operate under a false construct. The primary criterion for a press release is news value. That a paper has been put in the public sphere does not diminish its news value.