Interesting comments from Dennis Overbye about press releases

Marketing for scientists has an interview with NYT science reporter Dennis Overbye. In response to a question about whether science reporters can be manipulated, Overbye responded:

The easiest way to manipulate the press is to embargo some result and then send a press release about it to a thousand different news organizations.  They will cover it because they are afraid everyone else will cover it.   It’s a kind of artificial competition that’s stirred up.

It does two things.  By embargoing the information it makes it harder to get an informed opinion on the paper.  It put you at the mercy of time.   And you whip up competition between news organizations.   You have to have your story ready to go online the instant the embargo ends.

You will see that every story has a little note after it with the time that the story came out so you can see who was first, who was a few minutes late with it.  For some people this constitutes bragging rights—-in terms of business news it’s not so silly.  So there’s a deadline—-you’ve got to have something to say.  Your access to informed opinion may be limited.

Scientists complain all the time that reporters don’t take the time to understand the science in what they are writing about, and are just eager to get a story out quickly. But I think Overbye hits the nail on the head – just another reason to do away with embargoed press releases in science.

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