Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Are you ignoring published research because it's not embargoed?

Ivan Oransky's Embargo Watch blog just gave a bigger platform to an open letter from a biochemistry communicator to her fellow press officers who refuse to promote unembargoed research papers. It's a letter that's not to be missed, communicators.

Angela Hopp, of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, deals in research published online, without embargoes. She hears press officers refuse to even consider publicizing these studies, and has put her finger on all the excuses she hears. She anticipates your complaints and addresses them. And she acknowledges you're busy and under pressure.

What she doesn't say is this: The practice of embargoing research articles has made some communicators, well, lazy, or at least unwilling to approach the mountain of available papers because it's too big. It's easier to stick with embargoed papers which are by definition fewer in number. So you say "we only promote research under embargo" or, as Hopp is hearing, "The press office will not consider a paper for a press release after it publishes.”

Really? So when that paper gets a Nobel a few decades after publication, you're not doing a release? Or when Buzzfeed picks it up, you're not going to retweet that? If a congressional committee gets its hands on that paper and highlights it in a hearing, you're not touching it? I didn't think so. No, you can't publicize everything, and no one is asking you for that. But you could figure out faster, better ways to make it available and help reporters make sense of it, even if it has been published already. And yes, that might take work, the reason they're paying you.

I get to say all that because I've worked on every side of embargoes: As a reporter abiding by them; as a communicator abiding by, setting, and enforcing them; and later, as a communicator who decided to abandon them for journal research once my publisher went to immediate online publication. But that was well over a decade ago. Why hasn't your policy changed to fit the times? Communicators are quick to cite the publishers with embargoes as setting the policy. When the publisher says "no more embargoes," why not follow that policy? The research that's being published hasn't changed, has it? Maybe you're finding it just too tempting and convenient not to make that change, particularly when you're under pressure to get results and overwhelmed by those productive researchers.

Trouble is, neither a lack of embargoes nor already published status will get in the way of making news. Oransky's post quotes my 10 big myths about embargoes, one of which is the myth that reporters won't cover your story if you don't embargo it. He's got good data on that, too, in case you are dubious. In a nod to your workload, he also notes that promoting a study doesn't require a press release (which is a time-consuming product you should be cutting back on, anyway).

If I were a research communicator right now, I'd dig deep and rethink my approaches before too many more journals stop issuing embargoed research and too many researchers just ignored me on their way to making things public. There's some great research hiding in that pool of published-but-not-embargoed stuff. Where will you be with that "no promotion after publication" policy when all the embargoes are gone? I can work with you on strategies to revamp your process and your policy in a way that works better. Email me at eloquentwoman[at]gmail[dot]com to get started.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Richard Eriksson)

I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it properly, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. You can save 15 percent by registering by August 29. 

No comments: