Thursday, October 22, 2009

RIP, news embargoes

Add news embargoes to the growing jumble of detritus in the hellbox of journalism history.

In an age of insta-news, embargoes are so meaningless and unenforceable that they aren’t worth the pixels they are printed on. As a consequence, publicity seekers are on notice that they no longer will be observed here.

I am sorry to see embargoes go, because they were useful while they lasted. But that was then and this is now.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, newsmakers historically distributed press releases, speeches and other documents to the media prior to their official release so journalists had time to read them and prepare stories in advance. The idea was that the story would not be published or aired until the time specified in the embargo.

This was useful to journalists and their readers/viewers/listeners because it presumably gave reporters a chance to do a better job of assimilating and presenting the material. It also often helped newsmakers gain wider dissemination for their stories.

While a number of otherwise sophisticated people would like to think the embargo system remains operative to this day, recent experience proves that it is not.

Carefully orchestrated embargoes were blown out of the water on recent releases concerning the new non-profit journalism project in San Francisco and the Columbia University report on the meltdown of mainstream journalism.

If journalists can’t honor embargoes on releases about journalism issued by other journalists, then all bets are off.

Embargoes probably will survive in some rare cases where the newsmaker has the ability to deny access to the media on future occasions. A television network probably would avoid abusing advance access to the the State of the Union address for fear of being frozen out in the future by the White House.

In general, however, it will be open season on press releases 24/7 from here on out. Anyone wanting to control the timing of future missives should do what companies do with their earnings reports: Put stories on the wire/web at the moment they want them publicized and not a minute sooner.

Speeding up the treadmill probably won’t enhance the quality of news coverage. But it will make the journalistic food fight as fair as it can be.


Blogger Testosterblogger said...

Too true. In an age where more and more people are getting breaking news through Twitter updates, embargoes are basically useless. While newspapers are adapting through the use of portable media and Web updates, it does further highlight the time delay limitations of print journalism. Unfortunate.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was an American newspaper reporter for nearly 30 years during the "embargo" era and agree it is fading fast. But I've recently come across one public agency with an effective technique of keeping the lid on news: The Canadian Auditor General. For years, she has used reporter "lock-ups" prior to the release of audit reports to the Parliament. On the day the reports are released, her staff gathers all interested reporters and literally locks them into a room with their laptops no cellphones or Internet. Then the report is handed out, the AG gives a press conference and senior auditors roam around, helping reporters make sense of the numbers. Some of these reports run into the hundreds of pages. Reporters are given smoking breaks, and fed breakfast and lunch--a nice touch, depending on the menu. When the audit is officially released at 2 p.m., the door is unlocked and reporters dash out to chase down politicians for quotes and then file fully prepared stories. Attendance has ranged from 60 to more than 100. This works, of course, as long as the report doesn't leak from other departments. Thought this was interesting.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Herbert Barry Woodrose said...

This is wonderful. A lot of us really aren't comfortable with the chummy nature of reporters' relationships to the power they are supposedly 'keeping in check'. There are lots of very normalizing statements made by people in the industry to make it all ok, but to me it really isn't. Everything that burns down the old system is wonderful - no dark clouds in the sky that i can see.

A very diseased system is crumbling like a dinosaur - a system I feel is complicit in 90% of the political problems of the world as I see it - and simultaneously, people are looking to each other, doing it for themselves - Establishment's criticisms and attacks on the citizen journalist be damned. In fact socialism be damned as well - this is people being truly social.

Also, Iphone apps are coming out fast and furiously that link the user directly to aggregates - not of 'news', which is done for - but government reports and economic statistics; EPA compliance; earthquake zone monitoring; in short, people are connected to the world around them more and more in a meaningful way.

Profiting off the people's right to know what is being done with their collective monies and work is going away - transparency is happening, it is real. This is beyond 'news'.

I imagine old codgers like Murdoch will continue paying out of pocket for mouthpieces like the degenerate New York Post, but in the world-at-large, we are seeing growing signs of Democracy. Big D. It's coming soon. The real kind, the citizen participation kind, not the kind that we're allowed to have with our pathetic two party system and spoon-fed talking points.

This is a wonderful age. This is a wonderful sign of things to come.

1:51 PM  
Blogger eadnams said...

looks like its alive and well in Alberta, Canada:

12:32 PM  

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