The News Embargo: Much Ado About Nothing

No doubt by the time the U.S. wakes up on Wednesday morning the Twitterati will be out in force reacting to PaidContent’s story that the Wall Street Journal is giving up embargoes (apparently the new year’s diets went out the window in February).

In short, the Journal won’t accept embargoes for stories, but will take exclusives if handed to them.

According to Rafat Ali at PaidContent the policy change ties to Robert Thomson’s memo back in March when the judgment came down:

“…henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

But what’s really changed?

The big-brand companies still have the heft to bully publications ranging from the Journal to TechCrunch (which repented on embargoes last year) to accept embargoes. And the media properties with juice can still force the lesser names to accept their terms.

Or a given publication works with a company under embargo when it believes exploring the announcement and the associated context without the pressure of an immediate deadline will benefit the story.

That’s how the game has always been played.

I take issue with Ali’s assertion that “WSJ reporters will no longer be part of a herd of journalist briefings…”

While there are abuses from both sides of the fence on this one, the fact remains that an embargo enables a reporter to write a more thoughtful piece.

If anything, the embargo actually results in greater diversity in how an announcement plays out in various outlets. If you don’t believe this, compare the content of different wire stories from a single announcement.

I’m not criticizing the wires. With the pressures to be first (back to our friend Mr. Thomson) it’s virtually impossible to bang out an original story right after an announcement has officially gone live … which is why the only glory comes from being first.

But if you’re not going to be first, the benefit of time offers the opportunity for story telling.

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5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Loring Wirbel August 5th, 2009 8:02 am

    Rafat Ali seems to be describing a retro-scene of “herd of journalist briefings” straight out of the 1980s. Such events no longer exist. With every nugget of news squeezed from Tweets and 24-hour, 90-ns-granularity news updates, there are no more press conferences and no more valid embargos. In fact, Heidi Groshelle was describing a Bay Area media meet-and-greet slated for later this week, and I asked her what “media” was. I thought that journalists were a figment of someone’s imagination.

  2. Lou Hoffman August 5th, 2009 10:58 am

    Appreciate the perspective Loring. It’s been a number of years since we conducted a press conference with the last one for Sony depending on Bobby Flay as the lure.

    And you’re right, the definition of a journalist has gone from Clark Kent to anyone with a digital pulpit (which btw are accessible and free to anyone). I know I wouldn’t want to be measured on breaking news in today’s environment.

  3. Dude September 9th, 2009 5:39 pm

    Agreed with The Wirb:

    Pack media coverage/briefing now only occurs with major catastrophes or high death-toll accidents, child molesters, big courtroom cases, deaths of (entertainer) molesters who’ve been big courtroom cases, bridge construction delays, and athletes who juiced, lied, and/or conducted illegal dogfighting. If it bleeds, it ledes [sic - from old Journalistic differentiation between "lead" (hot lead type) and the "lede" (the story lead; Source: Art Garcia, former Editor, Bulldog Reporter].

    What happens if you hold a “Press Conference” and nobody shows up? I suppose the “news” wasn’t “robust” enough.

    Anyway, what the heck is an “embargo” nowadays? An hour? People should be thankful they still have papers to read. I’m wondering whether The Wirb would attend a “Press Conference” at a trade show, or would find out all the info prior to the event and go with it?

    P.S. I met Bobby Flay at the Food/Wine Festival at Shoreline this summer. Pretty funny occurrence. He’s a very nice person; I was hungry for info and I peppered him with questions [sic].

  4. Lou Hoffman September 10th, 2009 9:57 am

    The Art Garcia reference got my attention.

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