Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OA, science journalism, and media embargoes

Rebecca Walton, If It Ain't Broke, Don't Break It, PLoS blog, March 18, 2008. Discussing the topic of media embargoes, where a news item is released to the press but with the request that the story not be publicly reported before a certain time:

... But do embargoes serve the public's interest? Various audience members highlighted the problem of "churnalism" whereby increasing numbers of news stories consist of little more than recycled copy from press releases and the news wires (see also David Bauder’s Associated Press story on this subject yesterday); these stories are then read by thousands or even millions of people. This means that a lot of power lies in the hands of the press officer to shape news coverage. The panel agreed that, on balance, embargoes are in the best interests of the public because, as [The Independent's Steve] Connor pointed out, they give journalists the time to prepare a more measured, thoughtful and analytical article on a complex topic. They also allow press officers to ensure that the busy authors of the papers are available for interview during a certain block of time prior to publication. ...

Of course, when it comes to public interest and the dissemination of scientific research, the ability to immediately read – without charge – the original study behind the news coverage is of great importance. It's easy to tempt lazy journalists, in need of a story, right now, to simply tweak a press release slightly to turn it into a news article. The availability of the research article, free and online, puts the power back in the hands of the readers so that they can see for themselves what the research actually involved and what conclusions can and can't be drawn from it. Papers published in PLoS's open-access journals are embargoed until 5 p.m. Pacific Time on the day before the paper is published – the approximate time the article is available online – for this reason. ...