… information is passed on to reporters with the understanding that they can’t publish anything on it until a prearranged time. It is a common practice in science and medicine … Journalists who cover technology and business also confront embargoes.
In theory, press embargoes give journalists time to report and write accurate articles on complex issues, although there’s no proof they accomplish this. They do, however, have a number of side effects. Journals announcing scientific breakthroughs get an enviable public relations blast when a dozen publications publish articles at the same time. In effect, reporters become accomplices in a highly coordinated marketing campaign. …
What happens if a publication breaks an embargo? It depends. If it’s inadvertent … the publication or publicist will merely lift the embargo and life goes on. If it’s more egregious, a journal may publicly shame the perp or the publication in an e-mail to the other journalists on the beat, and blacklist the reporter, which can cause migraines for anyone dependent on them.
(Read the rest of Penenberg’s piece.)