Niche blog tracks embargo issues

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What a great idea for a blog – with a focus solely on the practice of embargoes in the management of the flow of health/medical/science news and information.

Reuters Health executive editor Ivan Oransky just launched his Embargo Watch blog last week but already has a faithful following. It’s evidence, I think, of what a sore subject embargoes are and have been with so many who have toiled in these fields for so (too?) long.

In his initial post, Oransky wrote:


“You’ve probably noticed that every major news organization — including mine, Reuters — seems to publish stories on particular studies all at once. Embargoes are why.

A lot of journals, using services such as, release material to journalists before it’s officially published. Reporters agree not to publish anything based on those studies until that date, and in return they get more time to read the studies and obtain comments.

That would seem to be a good thing for science and health journalism, much of which is reliant on journals for news because it’s peer-reviewed — in other words, it’s not just a researcher shouting from a mountaintop — and punctuates the scientific process with “news events.”

Vincent Kiernan doesn’t agree. In his book, Embargoed Science, Kiernan argues that embargoes make journalists lazy, always chasing that week’s big studies. They become addicted to the journal hit, afraid to divert their attention to more original and enterprising reporting because their editors will give them grief for not covering that study everyone else seems to have covered.

But even if embargoes are a necessary evil, they’re not uniform, and how each organization deals with them provides case studies in some of the chinks in embargoes’ armor.”

Ironically (or was this a test case?), Reuters itself lost its advance notice “privileges” from the American Heart Association last week for jumping an embargo by a whopping 43 minutes. (Correction added 12:21 pm Central time, March 1: They jumped the embargo by 1 hour and 43 minutes. A bit more whopping.)

The Embargo Watch blog is a great concept. It becomes a repository for embargo-related issues. It provides a social media platform for all parties involved in the dissemination of health/medical/science (and other) news and information to weigh in on the issue. Who knows? It may even lead to a better system.

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Paul Scott

March 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm

One cure might be to swear off daily i.e. “breaking” health journalism altogether. Magazine schlubs like us, er, me, have no need for the embargo dance because the lead times or so long, and you therefore have to think about reporting health stories differently, as issues, hopefully.