Go, Embargo, Go

So what’s an embargo, anyway? There’s the economic trade kind, but let’s stick to the news kind (much more relevant for AMA Style Insider readers). I spoke with Jann Ingmire, the JAMA and Archives Journals media relations guru, and she explained that embargoes exist primarily to give reporters the opportunity to cover a story in a more thorough way.

Here’s how they work: Embargoed material is released to members of the press prior to being released to the public, usually a few days early. This gives reporters time to do research, conduct interviews, and write a really great piece. When the embargo lifts, journalists are already prepared to report on newly published scientific studies.

Most of the time, the system works, but occasionally, an embargo is broken. Ms. Ingmire said she tries to give reporters the benefit of the doubt because, usually, it’s simple human error. Sometimes, though, the embargo break is flagrant. When this happens, reporters are sanctioned and stop receiving embargoed material.

Embargoes make it possible for everyone—from the independent blogger to the major media outlet—to have the same opportunity to gather a story. If you want to learn more, read embargowatch.wordpress.com, a blog that chronicles how embargoes affect news coverage.—Lauren Fischer

One thought on “Go, Embargo, Go

  1. Hi. There’s also another sense of the word “embargo” when it comes to STM journal articles. It has to do with hybrid open access, as opposed to journalistic scoops. It refers to a period of time (usually 6 or 12 months) during which open access to preprints is locked out so that publishers have a chance to collect revenue on the postprint via a paywall. For example, NIH and Wellcome Trust require that articles reporting on research funded by their grants be supplied to them in full-text preprint form as soon as they are accepted for publication; but they agree to prevent open access to the full-text content until 6 or 12 months after the postprint is published, so that the publishers’ business model isn’t undermined. All part of the grand question of DRM, essentially. In other words, how to get paid for content in a world where the pressure is on to give it away! In the case of STM publishers, they have to present a convincing value proposition to readers and authors, because the publishers are truly “only” value-added resellers, not content creators. Since the rise of the Web, this matters a lot, because today anyone can “publish” (make available to the world) a preprint, for free (unlike in the dead-tree-only era). Now things like peer review administration, editing, and data tools (eg, richer markup, semantic markup, data-searching-and-sifting tools, discovering connections between bits of content) become the value that publishers can offer to the STM practitioners. “Step behind my paywall and I’ll make it worth your entrance fee!”

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