In the journalism sense, an embargo means "do not publish a story until such-and-such a date."
New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and other peer-reviewed journals rely on embargoes to give mainstream reporters enough time to study up on a particular topic. If the journals didn't do this, health care reporters wouldn't have enough time to understand the issues around the latest cardiac, cancer, diabetes or autism study. (This is not a knock against reporters; there is a reason doctors specialize -- but you can't run a newsroom with a dozen different reporters who each cover a different health care specialty. Again, embargoes provide reporters time to talk to appropriate experts.)
Beyond health care, lots of businesses, especially in the tech arena, try to have embargoes. In that case, the goal is the same: to give reporters time to write about the story.
Recently, we've been finding that embargoes have become less effective, and other than when supporting a health care client's study that's about to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, we've been advising clients not to embargo an announcement.
Two recent blogs back up that advice.
Jeremy Wagstaff, a former Technology Columnist at The Asian Wall Street Journal and Wall Street Journal Online, wrote an interesting post on his blog, LooseWireBlog, entitled "How to Get Your Pitch Read Part XIV" that says embargoes don't work.
Stephen Baker, a senior writer at BusinessWeek, and writes the Blogspotting blog, commented on Wagstaff's blog, "Embargoed: Oh, forget it." According to Baker, "No doubt it works on occasion. A beat reporter covering Microsoft or Oracle can’t afford to follow the competition on a software release. But for me, an embargoed release screams out from my inbox: 'Erase me.'