2.6 Responsibilities to the Media

Journals work with media outlets to ensure that notable scientific advances are accurately reported in the press. From a journal’s point of view, media coverage of scientific articles has at least 4 purposes:

  • Accurate media coverage of published science increases the likelihood that the public will understand new scientific findings.
  • Media coverage helps authors of scientific articles increase the impact of their research by reaching audiences beyond that of the journal alone.
  • Media attention helps build a journal’s brand recognition among scientific and general audiences.
  • Readership that results from journal media coverage can lead to additional web traffic and citations, increasing the value of the journal to librarians.

To help the media responsibly cover science, journals should consider adopting some or all of the following practices:

  • Routinely assess the public interest in articles scheduled for publication in the journal. Identify newsworthy articles, perhaps in conjunction with a media relations department, sponsoring society, or publisher, and develop plans to highlight these articles in press materials. If an article is considered too specialized to interest the general public, some publishers – society publishers, for example — provide targeted materials to professionals, such as emails to society members.
  • Prepare press materials in concise, everyday language that accurately presents the scientific research reported in the article. This can be done with a media relations firm or the journal’s society or publisher. To help journalists assess the importance of the article, press materials should also provide background information, describe study limitations, and include information about authors’ potential conflicts of interest, if any.
  • In addition to preparing press materials, journals should help the media produce accurate reports by answering questions, supplying advance copies of the article on request, providing contact information for the author or authors who will speak about the article, and referring reporters to the appropriate experts. A 1-week advance notice of an upcoming publication (while still honoring the embargo date regarding official release) provides the media with ample time to prepare coverage.

In the United States and some other countries, some journals release press materials and access to related articles during an embargo period. An embargo is an agreement or request that a news organization refrain from reporting information until a specified date and/or time in exchange for advance access to the information. The embargo period provides time for the media to develop stories before the scientific article is published. In general, a journal should adopt embargo policies that help as many members of the media as possible to accurately cover the science reported in the publication. However, some journals specify the type of journalists who warrant access to embargoed information. The longer the embargo period, the more time journalists have to develop a story. A 3- to 5-day embargo period is reasonable. The full article, when available, should be provided to the media. The embargo of the full issue can be removed the day the content is released to the public (online or in print). If no embargo date is established, the available date is the date of publication (online or in print). If a journalist violates the terms of an embargo, the violation should be brought to the attention of his or her news organization. Members of the media who do not honor the embargo may be denied access to future embargoed material.

Journals should inform authors of the intent to prepare press materials for their article and of arrangements that have been made with the media. Study sponsors and funders as well as reporters are expected to follow the media guidelines of the journal. If an author’s organization is planning an independent press release or other media strategy, the timing of the activity should be coordinated with the journal’s and publisher’s (if applicable) staff. Authors or their institutes should contact the journal before speaking with the press to coordinate embargo periods, background information, and publication date. Some publishers provide authors with a summary of the impact of their article (media impressions). Such service can be attractive to some authors.

Authors are encouraged to grant interviews with reporters or discuss other information related to their study, provided that the reporter agrees to honor the embargo, in order to disseminate clear and accurate information regarding an article. The embargo allows the reporter time to cultivate a well-thought-out story.

2.6.1 Resources and Case Studies

Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Available at: http://publicationethics.org/ (Accessed March 9, 2012).

Improving public understanding: guidelines for communicating emerging science on nutrition, food safety, and health. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998;90:194-199. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/90/3/194/944731 (Accessed August 10, 2022).

Fontanarosa FB, DeAngelis CD. The Importance of the Journal Embargo. JAMA. 2002;288(6): 748-750. Available at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/288/6/748.full (Accessed August 10, 2022).

Loscalzo J, Bonow RO, Jacobs AK. Coronary Calcium Screening and the American Heart Association News Embargo. Circulation. 2004; 110: 3504-3505. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/110/23/3504.full (Accessed August 10, 2022).

Godle F. Breaking the Embargo. BMJ 2008; 337. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2852.full (Accessed August 10, 2022).

(Authorship: John Ward and Jennifer Mahar took the lead in writing this section of the white paper on behalf of the CSE Policy Committee. Jennifer Mahar revised this section for the 2009 Update. Stephen Morrissey and Heather Goodell revised this section for the 2012 Update. Members of the Editorial Policy Committee and the CSE Board of Directors reviewed and commented on it. This section was formally approved by the CSE Board of Directors on March 30, 2012. Danny Lambert revised this section for the 2023 update. This section was formally approved by the CSE Board of Directors on May 19th, 2023).